I recently had a conversation with someone who hires people to work at a large financial institution. Qualifications? Math and people skills are high on the list, as are attention to detail and honesty. His killer question, the one that separates the candidates who will move forward to a second or third interview from those who won’t is deceptively simple. “What’s your Uber rating?” That’s right, in a word that increasingly places a star value on random performance, a ride-sharing service driver you may have only met once can determine your employment future. “Stuber,” a new comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista, begins with a star rating and ends in an odd couple comedy.
Bautista is Vic, an LAPD detective on a mission to capture Teijo (Iko Uwais), the heroin dealer responsible for the death of his partner Sara Morris (Karen Gillan). When Teijo resurfaces during a Los Angeles heat wave Vic prepares to take him down. Trouble is, he’s just had Lasik surgery and can’t see. Fortunately, his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) installed the Uber app on his phone.
Enter Stu (Nanjiani), a sardonic retail clerk, with a crush on his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin), a part time job driving for Uber and a license plate that reads FIVESTARS. Ironically, he also has a comically low star rating, the result of a string of one-star reviews left by drunks and racists. “I can’t drop below four stars or I’ll lose my job,” he says.
He picks up Vic, takes him to the scene of a murder and, desperate for a five-star review hangs around, getting deeper and deeper into trouble. “If you want five stars,” says Vic, “keep the motor running.”
“Stuber” is more than just product placement for ride-sharing. Equal parts action and gags, it feels like a throwback to the odd couple buddy movies of yore.
Let’s play Retro Fantasy Casting. Imagine it’s 1985. You have an action-comedy about a hulking cop and a motor-mouthed cab driver. It’s violent, rough and raunchy. Sounds perfect for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Murphy. You get the idea.
The premise is as dated as Koosh Balls but like those colorful rubber balls, it’s still fun. Arnold and Eddie likely would have dialed back the pop psychology somewhat—“You give people your Glock,” says Stu, “not your love. That’s your problem.”—and upped the grit, but the other buddy movie puzzle pieces are very much in place.
These movies are all about chemistry and Bautista and Nanjiani bring it. Physically they’re Laurel and (a pumped up) Hardy and their size differential leads to some laughs. Bautista’s Mr. Magoo routine offers up some good opportunities for pratfalls but it is Nanjiani who really provides the comedy in this action-comedy. His is a steady comedic approach, with a drily hilarious delivery that wrings laughs out of lines that aren’t funny on the page. “I’ve done things tonight you wouldn’t believe,” is a standard line in movies like this but out of Nanjiani’s mouth it becomes a laugh line.
“Stuber” doesn’t reinvent buddy cop wheel but it does take it out for a spin and it’s a fun ride.