The labored premise ought to kill “Stuber” from the start: A meek Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani) teams up with a hard-nosed police officer (Dave Bautista) for an entire day and night, chasing drug dealers while the bullets fly.
The cop, Vic, just had Lasik surgery, so he can’t see clearly, and he tells his driver to “keep the meter running.” (Vic doesn’t know how Uber works.) The driver, Stu, fears a one-star customer rating if he doesn’t go along with the job.
You are free — and you are probably exhibiting good sense — to reject this implausible concept. However, if you roll with it just a little, there’s an appealingly goofball comedy lurking within the contrived storyline.
Vic, whose cartoon machismo makes him practically non-human, takes the case personally. The drug kingpin gunned down Vic’s partner (Karen Gillan, in an inexplicable reunion with her “Guardians of the Galaxy” co-star Bautista) during a previous job, dutifully depicted in the film’s dopey opening sequence.
Stu would just like to knock off for the day, and rush into the arms of a longtime platonic pal (“Glow” star Betty Gilpin, underemployed here) who’s just ditched her boyfriend.
These random “motivations” come from a moldy screenwriting manual. Luckily, the cast isn’t taking any of that seriously, and neither should we.
The R-rated mix of jokes and action hits the tone of an ’80s buddy comedy; you half expect to see Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte drive by, guns drawn. The difference is that “Stuber” mocks the macho cool of that era, instead keying in to Stu’s hilariously sensitive beta-male.
Stand-up comedian Nanjiani, whose hand-wringing style brightened “The Big Sick,” once again gets laughs out of awkward situations. The film has plenty of those, which means this is probably Nanjiani’s true breakout moment.
Bautista looks more alien in this movie than in the “Guardians” films, where he’s covered in digitally-generated outer-space scales. Still got decent comic timing, though.
Director Michael Dowse has made some funny movies, including “What If” and the hockey farce “Goon.” He has an instinct for letting scenes drift wherever the silly stuff is happening, like Stu’s heart-to-heart talk with a male stripper, which seems to be here purely because it’s so darned delightful.
Not everything in “Stuber” pays off (Mira Sorvino as Vic’s boss? Hmm…), and the movie won’t be remembered long. But some formulas still work, and the mismatched-buddy-cop-action-comedy is one of them.
“Stuber” 3 stars
A meek Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani) chauffeurs a gruff cop (Dave Bautista) during a violent day-long investigation. If you roll with the contrivance, and the R-rated mix of jokes and violence, there’s a goofball comedy lurking here, brought to passable life by the stars.
Rating: R, for violence, language