A promising premise and plenty of talent are squandered in Stuber, an action-comedy film showcasing a buddy-cop formula. While in terms of acting and storyline the bar is often set a little lower for both action films and comedies, it shouldn’t ever have to be set at the combined low that is witnessed in this film.
Things open with a delightful bang when LAPD cop Vic (Dave Bautista) and his partner chase down a drug dealer named Teijo (Iko Uwais). But Teijo kills Vic’s partner in the ensuing chase, and Vic swears revenge.
Six months later, Vic undergoes Lasik surgery to repair his eyes. Unfortunately, this coincides with the re-emergence of Teijo, and Vic needs to meet an informant so he can stop a major drug deal and take down his nemesis in the process. Advised to keep his heart rate down and essentially blind and unable to drive, he gets his daughter’s help to install the Uber app on his phone so that someone else can drive him around.
In Vic’s first experience with the ridesharing app, he’s picked up by a driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who needs to maintain a high rating to keep his job. He’s been suffering a slew of one-star ratings recently, so as he picks up Vic, he needs to do anything he can to make sure he gets many stars on his next rating. As the film progresses, his life depends on his capability of continually driving Vic from one place to another.
Stu’s constant banter about why he’s often in trouble is essentially the one saving grace, as he’s funny at his worst. Stu is quick to pick up on Vic’s strained relationship with his daughter, and likewise, Vic sees right through Stu’s friend-zone relationship with Becca (Betty Gilpin), the girl with whom he’s secretly in love.
The metaphor of Vic’s blindness to the world around him is counterpointed with Stu’s growing into a good guy over the course of a few hours, and their relationship is settled in a few conversations while engaging in major fistfights throughout Los Angeles. A couple of tender moments that get Vic to his vulnerable side and Stu pretending he’s a cop and stepping into his macho side turn these two into best buddies who learn to look out for one another.
Director Michael Dowse (Goon) is no stranger to action, so the little bits we get here are great. There are plenty of unexpected set pieces that provide comic relief for the battle scenes. There is significantly more violence, torture, and mayhem in Stuber than what traditionally fits buddy-cop movies. It plays out similarly to Collateral, an action movie with the same concept. But as a comedy, it doesn’t really work.
Ultimately, this feels like standing around the water cooler at work while being forced to listen to a colleague talk about their drunken debauchery of a weekend and having to nod politely or laugh as social courtesy. Although there is an interesting story hidden somewhere in Stuber, it might be more satisfying to sit down and work.