Hollywood loves a buddy comedy, especially one with a cop thrown into the mix. With the right coupling, these movies can be an absolute hoot, and it’s always nice to find any shift away from the routine white man duo. Back in the late 80s, we saw Tom Hanks and a calamitous French Mastiff join forces in the lovable Turner & Hooch. More recently came The Heat, which was sorta formulaic but genius in its marriage of buddy comedy veterans Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. And lest we forget Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan’s disparate duo in the side-splitting Rush Hour film series.
In his own take on the genre, director Michael Dowse goes for a proper odd couple in ratings-obsessed Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) and in-yo-face LAPD detective Vic (Dave Bautista). Stuber – a nickname courtesy of Stu’s a-----e manager at his sports store day job – is where killer, deadpan humor meets excessive, unexciting brutality. While that encounter comes with potential aplenty, it winds up being one that really, really doesn’t need to happen. Working with a patchy script by Tripper Clancy, Dowse monumentally blows his chance to forge something memorable.
Stuber starts its shift with standard-issue tough-guy Vic in a dust-up with bluntly-written drug lord Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais). This clears the way for the beefy cop’s dogged pursuit of his arch-enemy across the remainder of the feature’s excruciating 93 minutes. There’s honestly little to stay for until eager-beaver Stu rocks up in his shiny, newly-leased Prius with all his wry one-liners. Teijo is close by, and with Vic’s sight on the blink after eye surgery, he needs a ride. Determined not to let the scumbag who killed his partner Sara (Karen Gillan in a disappointingly brief appearance) slip through the net, he strong-arms Stu into a madcap quest for justice. Needless to say, it’s farce, violence and shoot-outs galore from then on – and all captured and edited in the most chaotic, unappealing way.
Bautista hasn’t come into my orbit before, so I’ve got no touchstone of his talents. But there’s nowt to write home about here, his short-fused character dismally one-dimensional. Though, perhaps we should point the finger at Clancy for that. Evidently, heavy is the head that wears the comedy crown, for Nanjiani carries the weighty burden of tickling the audience. He really tries, bless his witty little soul, sadly failing to pick up the slack enough to make Stuber a journey worth taking. But obstacles litter the road before him. The film barely takes a breather from plugging Uber, a slew of its gags hinged on the world’s favourite ride-sharing app. One example – some UberPool bants – may just rouse a chuckle if you missed a funnier reference to the service of late in Always Be My Maybe.
A mere sniff of nuance wafts through the gaps in all the clamour, but heady it isn’t. For the most part, Stuber is insipid, squandering Nanjiani’s talent – and maybe Bautista’s too? Dowse and Clancy get no 5-star review from me, but Stu gets one for his pluck.