There’s no such thing as a bad movie concept, just bad execution. People can complain about the ideas of bad movies, but without any risks, some of the greatest movies wouldn’t have been made. There would be no Star Wars, none of the Disney library would have had the chance to be loved worldwide, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would just be a pipe dream for the comic book company. But some ideas just don’t work, not even as a concept. And that’s where Stuber comes in.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Stu, an Uber driver who hates his day job and has saved up to open a business with his best friend/crush Becca (Betty Gilpin), while striving to maintain a five-star Uber rating. One day, he picks up a ride for Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), a grizzled LA cop on the hunt for a drug lord (Iko Uwais), who had killed his former partner (Karen Gillan) six months prior. After dropping Manning off to meet an informant, Stu is dragged into Manning’s chase across the Los Angeles criminal underworld. The story hits many of the pivotal points of any buddy cop movie. The two squabble while pursuing the target, all while learning from while another. Stu learns to be more assertive while Bautista learns that showing emotion and needing help isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Like many buddy cop movies, the principle relationship makes or breaks the movie; and with that, the dynamic is standard. Nanjiani and Bautista play off each other well, fitting into the common archetypes. Bautista is a grizzled cop with a vendetta on a perp that got away, while Nanjiani plays the straight man that the audience is supposed to relate to. His reactions to the bizarre events that unfold are the main source of comedy for the film. Bautista’s performance, however, is shallower than that of his partner. The character is portrayed as a badass loose-cannon cop; however, Bautista’s charm is lacking when compared to Nanjiani. Another problem the movie has is that despite its Uber driver concept/gimmick, there’s very little of it integrated well into the story. While there are references and a plan near the end relying on it, the setup seems rather throwaway.
The movie’s action sequences start off with your standard chases and standoffs in the beginning to more interesting setups in the later half of the movie. One of the things that makes the action scenes work is the self-awareness the movie has about them. During a hostage situation, Nanjiani and Bautista describe what they expect to happen as one of the gunmen assures that those things will happen. But the chase scene in the final act highlights the contradiction between things like shooting a car’s tires and shooting a propane tank to cause an explosion, with the reality challenging the action audiences have come to expect of the genre.
Mediocre movies are like roses. While some parts of it are appealing and show the movie’s promise, it is impossible to ignore its thorns. Despite a vanilla story, there are elements of the film’s action sequences that make them interesting and they get a chuckle. However, the movie is unbalanced, and this is also reflected in the performances of the two leads and how the characters are written.
As you leave the theater and wait for your own Uber (or Lyft), the movie will leave you with a feeling of base entertainment, which any decent popcorn movie should, but beyond that, it’s nothing special and it does not stand out from any other summer blockbuster.