Kumail Nanjiani, writer and star of the 2017 breakout hit “The Big Sick,” is an extremely funny man.
Dave Bautista, former World Wrestling Entertainment performer and “Guardians of the Galaxy” co-star, is following in the footsteps of wrestlers past like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena and can be a very funny man in his own right.
Their first collaboration, a buddy comedy about a Los Angeles detective matched with a shy Uber driver, is not funny.
A generic and on the nose action flick destined for basic cable, “Stuber” is aptly named as its lead character Stu drives for the ridesharing service Uber, giving him the unwanted nickname Stuber.
Overly timid and stuck in the friend zone with a girl he secretly loves, Stu’s world turns upside down when he crosses paths with an intimidating, aging cop coming off Lasik eye surgery and in need of a ride.
What sounds incredulously silly on paper comes to life on screen as an increasingly less funny premise.
Talented as they may be, Nanjiani and Bautista have middling chemistry together and fail to elevate Tripper Clancy’s bland, unoriginal screenplay.
Nanjiani brings an earnest attitude to the role of Stu that makes the character relatively easy to root for in spite of his total ineptitude around women.
His dry delivery becomes disarming after a while and the awkward social commentary the film attempts to make on the concept of toxic masculinity doesn’t harm “Stuber” as much when it comes to Nanjiani’s performance.
Bautista, on the other hand, finds less success in this regard as his cold machismo and aggression both physically and in line delivery reinforce the “real men don’t cry” mentality that the film seeks to subvert.
There’s a whole secondary storyline keyed on Vic’s advanced age for law enforcement that doesn’t really work with Bautista as well as it might with a veteran actor in the genre like Bruce Willis. Despite the fact that the wrestler turned actor is indeed 50 years old, Bautista certainly doesn’t look or act the part and Vic having a 30-year-old daughter isn’t nearly as plausible.
The secondary characters in the film are largely ineffective and forgettable, especially Natalie Morales’ tepid turn as Vic’s estranged daughter.
Clancy and director Michael Dowse treat every character outside of Vic and Stu as figuratively – or in some cases, literally – expendable. This shallow approach to storytelling prevents the film from becoming something more than surface level hijinks and gives supporting actors so little to work with that their performances are one-note caricatures.
“Stuber” is mildly entertaining as Nanjiani and Bautista both give likable performances that make the 93-minute running time a relatively pain free watch.
The jokes just don’t land nearly as often as they should.
A lack of humor severely hinders the success of a film like “Stuber,” where the plot mainly serves as an access point for situational comedy.
What “Stuber” reeks of is a script penned in the wake of buddy cop films like 2014’s “Ride Along” and 2010’s “The Other Guys” that stagnated on a studio executive’s shelf until actors could be convinced to sign onto the project and jokes then tailored towards those performers.
In this regard, Nanjiani and Bautista are too comedically similar despite their vast physical differences and there’s no sense of balance to the humor.
Whether it’s the way the script is written or simply how the pair both approach the dialogue, Bautista’s relatively monotone delivery blends too much with a surprisingly timid Nanjiani, who proves to be much more effective when the dialogue is more biting.
For an R-rated comedy, “Stuber” doesn’t take enough chances to separate itself from the endless pile of action bro flicks rotating through HBO programming, which is probably the best place to watch this middling film.