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Review: Bullets and one-liners fly in the mildly satisfying 'Stuber'

Joe Gross

In “Stuber,” an ’80s-style action comedy starring Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”), Bautista is Vic, a giant-sized Los Angeles cop who takes a life he really wanted to preserve after a bust gone wrong.

Now he’s on the trail of a notorious drug kingpin. Will the trail go ... all the way to the top?

Like many movie cops before him, Vic is hyper-masculine and extremely on-task. His boss (what is up, Mira Sorvino) wants him to move on with his life, but Vic just can’t. He. Just. Can't.

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He’s the sort of cop who has a troubled relationship with his artist daughter (Natalie Morales) and never really made her the priority she should be.

In fact, he’s getting eye surgery on the very day of her art opening, which means he can’t see much. Not a great (wait for it) look, dad. (I will show myself out.)

After getting his eyeballs fixed, Vic also finds out that, in the tradition of cop movies, the Drug Deal is Going Down Tonight. No way Vic is going to let this slide. So, too blind to drive or aim a gun correctly (as he finds out the hard way), he calls an Uber. Yep, that happens.

This one happens to be driven by Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who hates his job at an REI-style outdoors store, drives for Uber at night and is about to invest in a women-only spin gym with his pal (the often brilliant Betty Gilpin of “G.L.O.W.,” terrific but not given enough to do here).

Stu is obsessed with his five-star rating and is driving in a leased electric car. His life is not exactly going the way he wants — and please don’t call him “Stuber.” Nanjiani, who once titled a terrific comedy album “Beta Male,” plays 21st-century dweebs about as well as anyone alive.

As you might imagine, these opposites are stuck with each other for a night of mayhem, mostly because Vic, as alpha as it gets, refuses to end his ride, and Stu neither wants to die nor get a bad rating from his passenger.

Their adventure ultimately involves a great deal of terrific one-liners from Nanjiani, a whole lot of gunplay (some of it actually quite violent) and the sort of antagonism that is mighty traditional for old-school action comedies.

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Director Michael Dowse (of the oddly slept-on “Goon”) fills the screen with plenty of action, often in odd locales with loads of comic potential, capitalizing on Bautista’s past as a wrestler. A canny fight at the end of the second act tweaks the formula just enough to make one perk up a little.

There is far more action than characterization (the central crime itself is a little confusing) and serious action-comedy fans might turn up their noses a bit at some of the details. But “Stuber” is a mildly satisfying action comedy for a summer that needs some non-superheroic fun.

Editor's note: This review was originally published during South by Southwest 2019. It has been updated for the film's theatrical release.


Grade: C+

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais.

Director: Michael Dowse.

Rating: R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Barton Creek, Flix, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, Metropolitan, Moviehouse 620, Moviehouse Lantana, Pflugerville 20, Sky Dripping, Southpark, Stone Hill, Westgate.