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'Action comedy'? 'Stuber' is a car wreck

'Action comedy'? 'Stuber' is a car wreck

July 11th, 2019 by Tribune News Service in Features

Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani in "Stuber." (Twentieth Century Fox/TNS)

There is absolutely no reason to catch a ride with the nasty, brutish and shrill "Stuber," a horror movie about our current American nightmare of late capitalist economics and unchecked law enforcement masquerading as an "action comedy." If that's not sobering enough, "Stuber," written by Tripper Clancy and directed by Michael Dowse, is also deeply unfunny. It centers on the odd-couple pairing of Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista, who try to cover up their complete lack of chemistry with increasingly deafening screams.

You know what's just a laugh riot? Consider that the hero of our film, the titular "Stuber," Stu (Nanjiani), drives Uber on the side because he doesn't make enough at his low-wage gig at a big box sporting goods store while also trying to open a business with his best friend/crush (Betty Gilpin). You know what's even funnier? When he's kidnapped by an off-duty LAPD officer, Vic (Bautista), who is on a vengeance mission and conscripts Stu into the torture and murder of civilians. Ha. Ha. Ha. Those murderous off-duty LAPD officers sure are hilarious.

It's a busted, blatant, bumbling rip-off of Michael Mann's "Collateral," but rather than a smooth assassin and a panicked cabbie, it's a rogue cop with impaired vision due to LASIK surgery and a motor-mouth sweetie behind the wheel of a leased Nissan Leaf. One can see the appeal of the concept in theory. But it's lost in the loud and messy execution.

In throwing together sensitive beta Stu and the testosterone-fueled Vic, "Stuber" is trying to say something about the hot topic of toxic masculinity (aren't we all?), but it has its cake and eats it too. Stu might yell at Vic to talk about his feelings or being a better father, and yes, he does call out just how illegal everything Vic does that day is, repeatedly. But for every one of these moments, there's a scene where Stu learns to "man up" by becoming violent himself, shedding his compassion, empathy and respect for human life. At the end of the day, the two men have apparently learned new ways of being men from each other. Vic becomes more sensitive, while Stu embraces his own power. But the half-hearted cultural commentary gets lost in the violent melee. What we see doesn't match their words.

If a film is going to be action-packed and violent, it should have the decency to at least present it well. The cinematography and editing is completely incoherent and not compelling. Of all the offenses "Stuber" commits (we've barely scratched the surface), the one that burns worst is the casting of Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais, a master of the brutal fighting style silat, as the bad guy, and then failing to shoot any of the fight scenes with a single shred of cogency or clarity. If you cast Uwais, we want to see him fight, but the action scenes are so atrociously muddled it's impossible to follow.

Stu shrieks every story point, so even watching this grating and pointless film, filled with bone-headed plot twists, is utterly unrewarding. Save the Uber fare and stay far, far away.

 

'STUBER' 1 star. Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Natalie Morales, Karen Gillan, Iko Uwais. Directed by Michael Dowse. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity.

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