Action flick machismo suffers an identity crisis in “Stuber,” a so-so buddy comedy frequently redeemed by the charisma of Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”). He’s Stu, a mild-mannered Uber driver whose ride is commandeered by Vic (Dave Bautista), a cop on a mission — but who can’t drive, because he’s just had Lasik surgery.
There’s a likably cartoonish juxtaposition between Bautista, best known as the hulking Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Nanjiani, who traffics in witty neurosis and beta-male banter. Stuffed into a tiny front seat, they embody entirely different concepts of masculinity as Vic drags Stu into a tide of violence and gore (and a lot of accidentally walking into stuff). Stu, meanwhile, tries desperately to hang on to a five-star rating while remaining alive.
Tripper Clancy’s screenplay cheerfully slings insults at Vic (“Douche Lundgren”) and punctures some genre cliches: When Vic and Stu stumble into a strip club to catch a perp, they find greased-up men grinding on the poles. Stu has a heart-to-heart with one dancer sporting a Hillary Clinton tattoo, while the club’s female owner dresses down Vic for mansplaining. The nonsensically high cost of property damage also comes in for critique: When Vic flippantly tells Stu to put a wrecked car “on my tab,” Stu objects: “There is no tab! Uber is not a general store in the Old West!”
These satirical flourishes make it more disappointing when director Michael Dowse (“What If”) gives in to cliche. The body count of Vic’s quest is numbingly high, and he doesn’t think twice about using torture to get answers. Nanjiani, the voice of reason, points out that most of this is completely avoidable, but he does it against a backdrop of generic violence.
“Stuber” mostly wastes its supporting cast. Oscar winner Mira Sorvino has a cop role too small to be worthy of her. Ditto Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”) as Stu’s love interest and Natalie Morales as Vic’s fed-up daughter. Indonesian actor and martial-arts master Iso Uwais (“The Raid”) is squandered as the drug dealer Vic’s chasing: Not surprisingly, “Stuber” is less interested in the artfulness of fight scenes than in getting the plot where it needs to go.
Still, the film is a decent calling card for Nanjiani’s career. Can someone please cast him as a new “Fast & Furious” crew member? I’d love to see him try to talk Vin Diesel down from all that fury.