One of the keys to being a singer is staying within your range. “Yellow Submarine” works because Lennon and McCartney knew that Ringo’s voice lived within a five-key span on the piano, and they kept it there. By its very premise, Stuber is the cinematic equivalent of a nasally, honking baritone. With big, dumb humor, this movie finds a narrow range and pounds out those notes for 90 minutes. To paraphrase those Muppets up in the theater balcony: This ain’t half bad. It ain’t half good, either. But it’s a credit to everyone involved in this thing that they realize it, too.
Our story begins with Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), a burly detective for the LAPD. Vic gets pushed into frenzied revenge when his rookie partner (Karen Gillan) is gunned down by a crazed drug kingpin (Iko Uwais). There’s only one problem: Vic’s vision is just this side of Ray Charles, and a recent surgery has left him with a Clint Eastwood squint. When he gets a hot tip on the bad guy’s whereabouts, Vic winds up in an Uber driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani). Stu is a high-strung dweeb who is thoroughly unprepared for an afternoon of French Connection hijinks with a blind Popeye Doyle. You’ll be shocked–shocked, I say–to find that these disparate men will bicker and banter their way to a genuine friendship and a mutual desire to see justice done.
If all that sounds aggressively unambitious, well it is. Most of the comedy in Stuber is aimed directly at stoned high school seniors who spend their afternoons folding the perfect paper airplane: We get a shootout in a vet’s office, which involves canned cat food, a squawking parrot, and a character barfing. You also won’t want to miss the sequence in a male strip club, where the movie revels in making jokes about penises and man boobs. Most of these jokes don’t land, and this results in long stretches of dullness.
That makes it even weirder and more frustrating when Stuber comes alive to be genuinely funny. Nanjiani’s dialogue gets peppered with some savvy pop culture references. I lost it when Vic first lumbers into Stu’s Uber: “What, you want me to drive you to all the Sarah Connors in town?” Nanjiani has a knack for dry sarcasm that’s perfect for the role. Bautista, playing the sort of scowling, growling enforcer that Hulk Hogan and Dwayne Johnson used to make a living off of, has a fair amount of charisma as the lunkhead cop. These actors are good, both individually and together.
Stuber is a fine example of the singers being better than the song. It makes you wish the writers had given them a few more notes to hit. “Middling” is a word I’ve been saving up for a while, and I think it applies here. On a final note, I can’t believe I referenced the Beatles in a movie review about a hulking cop and his Uber driver. It’s like referencing The Tempest in an analysis of Bazooka Joe comics, but I stand by it. “Yellow Submarine” helped changed the world, while Stuber might help you fall asleep after a few beers.
93 min. R.