Dave Bautista has, in the years since he made the jump from the wrestling ring to the big screen, carved out a career as one of Hollywood’s most interesting bruisers. He has balanced regular appearances as Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with turns in silly action fare such as the delirious football stadium thriller Final Score and more thoughtful roles like his work as a rogue replicant in Blade Runner 2049. There’s no prizes for guessing which category Stuber falls into, but it’s one of his most enjoyable roles to date.
Bautista is no-nonsense LAPD cop Vic (Dave Bautista), who has been obsessed with drug dealer Tedjo (The Raid‘s Iko Uwais) since he was responsible for the death of his partner. He gets a crucial lead on the case and prepares to hop in his car and end things for good, but this happens to be the day of his laser eye surgery, and he’s near-blind. This leads him to call an Uber, driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who has no idea what he just signed up for.
It’s a fun, if ridiculous, premise and it’s one that both Bautista and Nanjiani throw themselves into wholeheartedly. The former is an old school, slightly toxic mean machine who subscribes to the tenets of old-fashioned masculinity, while Nanjiani is a more modern, sensitive man. He cares only for his five-star driver rating on Uber and finding a way to turn his long-term friendship with Becca (Betty Gilpin) into a romance.
The dynamic between Vic and Stu is an entertaining one, helped by Tripper Clancy’s sharp script, which Nanjiani was able to take a pass at when he signed on to the project. Stu is obviously terrified of his passenger, whom he refers to out of earshot as “Douche Lundgren”, but he’s also willing to take him to task on his grim worldview and turbulent relationship with his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) – often second fiddle to his Tedjo obsession.
Bautista has shown ample comedic skill before as Drax, and he certainly brings all of those skills to Vic. There’s also plenty of room for his action chops, with a thrilling early scuffle against Uwais setting the tone for what’s to come. Director Michael Dowse, though, is always aware that his action alone can’t match up to the John Wick films of the world and so he peppers them with a vein of comedy. When Vic and Stu themselves come to blows in a sporting goods store in the third act, it’s a raucous and inventive set piece, as is a gunfight which unfolds to Holies track ‘The Air That I Breathe’.
There’s no doubt that Stuber is a fairly standard genre tale and anyone with a shred of knowledge of the action-comedy world will be able to put the various puzzle pieces of the neat conclusion together very early on. Gilpin and Morales, too, are underused in favour of the story about masculinity, with Gilpin in particular reduced to a pretty slim role as a woman exploiting her best friend’s obvious romantic affection for her.
With that said, though, Stuber is a breezy and fast-paced comedy actioner that occasionally provides an unexpectedly thoughtful discussion of masculinity’s insidious effects. Nanjiani and Bautista’s solid comedy chemistry keeps things on the rails, despite some rather iffy supporting characters, and the result is a chaotic Uber ride that might not quite get five stars, but probably deserves a little tip.
Dir: Michael Dowse
Scr: Tripper Clancy
Cast: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Iko Uwais, Mira Sorvino, Jimmy Tatro, Karen Gillan
Prd: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
DOP: Bobby Shore
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Run time: 93 mins
Stuber is in UK cinemas now.