The only contemporary thing about “Stuber” is the ubiquitous — excuse me, Uber-iquitous — product placement for a certain rideshare company that pervades the R-rated action comedy. I would try to avoid giving that rideshare company free advertising in this review, except that it’s so egregious that I can’t even say the name of the movie without also saying the name of the company.
Otherwise, “St----" has its heart in the 1980s, specifically the buddy-cop movies of the Reagan years, in which a mismatched duo bicker, shoot people and bicker some more for two hours. But while director Michael Dowse wants to be making a modern-day “Lethal Weapon,” it’s more like “Another Stakeout” — violent, occasionally amusing, instantly forgettable.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Stu, who works a terrible job at a big-box sporting goods store during the day, and a terrible job driving entitled jerks around Los Angeles at night. One night, Stu picks up Vic (Dave Bautista), an off-duty police detective who has a lead on a drug kingpin (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner six months earlier. Only — get this — Vic has just had Lasik eye surgery, and can’t drive himself, so he conscripts Stu to drive for him as he tracks down the killer.
Like a clearance-rack “Collateral,” the film follows Stu and Vic around Los Angeles, going from one shootout to the next, bickering all the way. The violence is surprisingly graphic for a comedy, and the movie gives Vic license to beat up and torture suspects to get the information he wants.
The alpha-male detective clashes with the beta-male Stu, who drives an electric car and does things like asking criminals to share their feelings. Nanjiani and Bautista are appealing actors who have had a good run of supporting performances up until now, and one can’t fault them for jumping at the chance to be lead actors here.
But the by-the-numbers screenplay by Tripper Clancy is way beneath them. There are funny lines here and there, but they exist in a vacuum, utterly disconnected from the characters or the story. You can almost hear the clicking of the screenwriter’s laptop as they talk. I will say that one scene, in which Stu exchanges relationship advice with a male stripper (Steve Howey), is very funny and suggests what the movie could have been.
Women characters are relegated to the margins, existing just to call the male characters periodically to ask when they’re coming home. That includes Natalie Morales as Vic’s daughter and Peggy Gilpin as Stu’s best friend and business partner, who he’s secretly been in love with for over a decade. (This long-term unrequited love subplot is also a major part of “Yesterday,” and it needs to be retired from movies. It’s not sweet, it’s creepy.)
Even the action scenes are shot confusingly, which is a real shame, since Uwais (“The Raid”) is one of the world’s great action stars. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to make an action-comedy, make sure at least one-half of the hybrid is running smoothly.