Stuber is not good. It’s not necessarily bad, either, but it feels like the sort of movie that even the people that made it would forget it happened within a month. It’s a flattened buddy cop comedy that trades in predictability and rarely gives its two charismatic leads enough room to flex. Unless taken literally because Dave Bautista is built like a U-Haul truck.
The aforementioned Bautista plays Vic Manning, an LA-based detective attempting to balance tracking criminal kingpin Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), tending to his relationship with his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), and dwelling on failing to save his late partner Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) during a recent shoot-out. But one day when he’s in the middle of doing the second thing, he gets a lead for the first thing and gets locked into an adventure for this fourth thing: partnering up with Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) to do his job.
It’s a terrible conceit that gets them together: Vic just got Lasik, so he can’t drive. But that’s the kind of movie this is. It uses whatever means necessary to get from one goof to the next. And for the most part, it works. You’ll laugh at times and you may even be riveted at times, but none of the connective tissue is anything close to remarkable.
The story tries its hardest to tease out some semblance of meaning between these two leads. In this unlikely pairing, we see the contrast of traditional masculinity with hyper muscular and aggressive Vic with soft-spoken Stu, and over the course of the movie, they learn about how real men are something something something. It never quite get there, even though the setup is blatantly obvious. One person punches and one person emotes—time to learn a lesson!
There is a largest missed opportunity here beyond just whiffing on some chuckles. It skirts around being a moderately tuned-in examination of modern techno anxiety and the current social climate. Stu, you see, is kind of the quintessential struggling adult. He works one job in retail to survive and picks up rides on Uber to save money to embark on a path of being his own boss with his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin).
But his Uber ratings are flailing. Not through any particular fault of his own, though. He constantly gets one- and two-star ratings for simply being him, i.e., not white. Comments like “massive eyebrows obstruct vision” and references to “those people” are prevalent in his driver feedback. Which means that he can’t speak up for himself for fear that it’ll only drive his ratings lower and lower. It is, essentially, the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror.
Here is a man whose entire existence is built on a system constructed by those who either can’t or won’t care about how they’ve designed a system that enables casual and systemic racism. And it’s a distinctly and egregiously capitalistic system that exploits the needs of its workers to force them into compromising positions from the get-go. And whenever he’s not a part of that system, he’s still a minority in an incredibly racist society. (Yes, I do mean America and I do mean to say Uber is a terrible company and the inevitable product of late-stage capitalism.)
It’s ripe for commentary, and yet here we are with another inoffensive (if you don’t think too hard on the strip club sequence) and ultimately forgettable buddy comedy. The potential is obvious enough that it’s distracting, which is even more tantalizing given how frequently you are awarded the opportunity to not pay attention. Stuber is perfectly innocuous, but it could have been something more.
Final score: 5 out of 10