I like Kumail Nanjiani a lot. He’s been funny in HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and even more so in “The Big Sick,” which he co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. Now he’s in the action-comedy “Stuber” — and it’s a good thing, because he’s the only thing that makes it worthwhile.
The movie’s plot is based on a ridiculous premise. Big beefy cop Vic, played by wrestler Dave Bautista, gets Lasik surgery in the morning which makes his vision blurry for the rest of the day. Then he gets a phone call tip about a big drug deal that’s going down later that day involving Tedjo, a criminal he’s been chasing for two years, who also killed his police partner six months ago. Despite his inability to see clearly, and his boss telling him to back off because the case has been handed over to the feds, Vic just has to go after the bad guy — without any backup. Since he can’t drive, he calls an Uber.
That’s when Najiani rolls up in his electric vehicle as Stu, who his idiot boss at a sporting goods store has nicknamed Stuber. Desperate to get his star-rating up on the Uber app, Stu puts up with a lot of nonsense from his riders, but Vic takes it to another level. He essentially kidnaps Stu and forces him to serve as his personal driver while trying to track down last-minute leads on Tedjo.
In 2004, Michael Mann made an intriguing drama called “Collateral,” in which Tom Cruise plays a hitman who makes cabbie Jamie Foxx drive him all over Los Angeles so he can carry out his contract kills. That movie was moody, cool, and clever, with terrific performances by its leads and typically smooth direction from Mann.
“Stuber” wants to be the comedy version of “Collateral,” but Bautista is far from Cruise. Yes, he’s big and muscular and loud, but his timing is clumsy and his emotional range runs the gamut from A to B*. Meanwhile, Nanjiani saves every scene with his dry, deadpan delivery and likable sensibility. There are quite a few funny lines in the movie, all of which come out of his mouth.
The guys are supported by Mira Sorvino (still trying to get back into mainstream Hollywood after Harvey Weinstein derailed her career) as Vic’s boss, Betty Gilpin (from the Netflix series “Glow”) as Nanjiani’s love interest, and Natalie Morales (“Parks and Recreation”) as Vic’s daughter. There are subplots involving the latter two that merely fill time.
To buy “Stuber,” you have to buy the ridiculous premise and let it run. You have to believe that Vic’s eye problem means he can’t see the guy he wants to punch, yet he can see a gun on the floor when he needs it. That he can read a cellphone screen some times, but not others. That he can kill four heavily-armed bad guys by merely spraying bullets in their general direction while they can’t hit him once.
Comedies are having a hard time at the box office this year. Drek like “Late Night,” “Poms,” and “The Hustle” may have killed America’s desire to trek to a theater to see something funny — particularly when they can wait a few months and find them on Netflix at home, where they can stop watching halfway through without spending a dime. Even the year’s funniest non-animated movies, “Booksmart” and “Long Shot,” haven’t done well. That doesn’t bode well for this opening weekend of “Stuber.”
“Stuber” has two things going for it that might make it worth your time. One is that Nanjiani is in almost every scene, tossing off wisecracks that had me laughing several times. The other is that it’s only 90 minutes long, which is just enough to wrap up its silly premise. But those might not be reason enough for you to rush out to pay to see it.
I give “Stuber” a 5 out of 10.
* A comment credited to Dorothy Parker, referring to a performance by Katherine Hepburn.