The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.

Photo by Karen Ballard / 20th Century Fox

Stuber" has merits and flaws in perfect balance. For every moment that provokes laughter or interest, there’s another that will elicit groans or boredom. For every joke that hits, another one misses. For every good decision, there’s a bad one.

It adds up to mediocrity. Not even the intriguing kind that’s worth a ticket on a lazy afternoon — plain, unremarkable mediocrity.

That’s a shame, as lead Kumail Nanjiani is among the funniest (and most underutilised) performers in Hollywood. He plays Stu, a sad-sack worker bee in Los Angeles; he toils for a silver-spoon type (Jimmy Tatro) at a sporting goods store by day, drives an Uber by night and is about to open a spin gym with his best friend/unrequited love, Becca (Betty Gilpin).

Opposite Nanjiani is Dave Bautista, a serviceable action star who discovered untapped comedy chops through his role as Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Here, he’s Vic Manning, a no-nonsense cop whose partner (Karen Gillan) was killed by a drug kingpin (Iko Uwais); now, he’s out for revenge, despite the fact that his adult daughter (Natalie Morales) would like some attention.

The bad guy turns up immediately after Vic undergoes Lasik surgery, rendering him unable to see or drive — so he calls an Uber. With Stu unofficially deputized, we’ve got a buddy comedy.

Some of the jokes work, particularly those that play to the performers’ strengths. For Nanjiani, that’s improv; he riffs through scenes and gets bigger laughs than anything the script offers. For Bautista, that’s stumbling blindly into large objects.

It’s a basic skill, but he does it well.

Not everything lands, however, and a lot of the momentum is driven by frustration. Stu just wants to get back to Becca — she propositions him after a breakup — but there are bad guys to catch, and Vic still can’t see. “Stuber” spends an excessive amount of time justifying the need for its odd couple to stay together, without pulling off the argument.

There are nice touches around traditional guy-movie concepts — learning to express yourself and whatnot — but they’re offset by the pure object role played by Morales and the early exit of Gillan.

That’s the big offense from “Stuber,” by the way. If you set up a movie where we’re going to watch either Dave Bautista or Karen Gillan, and you give us Drax, you’ve made a huge mistake.

My Rating: 5/10

"Stuber" opens in wide release Friday, July 12.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner