I suppose when I beat the drum for more films with lead actors of Asian descent, I mean something like Stuber, a generic action-comedy in which the actors’ ethnicity is more or less incidental to the plot. We’ll likely see better ones than this, but God help me, those Asian actors did make me laugh.
Kumail Nanjiani stars as Stu Prasad, a sporting-goods salesman and part-time Uber driver who’s subjected to all the indignities of the latter profession — really, having his douchebro boss (Jimmy Tatro) nickname him “Stuber” is among the least of it. One day, he receives a pickup request from Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), an LAPD detective who has spent three years tracking the drug smuggler (Iko Uwais) who killed his cop partner (Karen Gillan). Vic has received a hot tip on the villain’s whereabouts in the city shortly after having long-delayed corrective eye surgery done, so he needs someone to drive him around and chase criminals. The electric car that Stu so fussily maintains because it’s a lease is going to take a few hits and then some.
Since Uber gave its permission for the film to use its name, we shouldn’t expect any references to the rideshare app’s shortcomings as an employer. Screenwriter Tripper Clancy sticks too close to the template set down by Hollywood buddy cop movies. You know that Vic will teach Stu to stand up for himself while Stu will teach Vic that his refusal to show emotions is wrecking his relationship with his daughter (Natalie Morales). She and the other women in this movie are generally pushed off to one side, including Gillan (not sure why she took such a brief and unrewarding role) and Mira Sorvino as a police captain.
Director Michael Dowse does have a talent for escalating mayhem, as he showed in his romantic comedy What If. Here he engineers a slapstick fight between Vic and Stu, where the two combatants do more damage to themselves than each other. In another scene, a frustrated Stu throws an empty gun at the bad guy, with unexpected consequences. The fight sequences are done with some competence, and in Uwais, the film has a bona fide martial-arts star who is making inroads in American films.
Bautista’s gruff sense of humor shows up well here as in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it’s Nanjiani who does the most to make this watchable. It would be uncharitable to say he’s a better Kevin Hart than Kevin Hart, but he’s in the Kevin Hart role here, the ordinary dude who vomits all over the scene when the action hero shoots people in front of him. The comic squeezes laughs out of the setup, whether Stu is trying to guess Vic’s ethnicity or freaking out about the carnage. (“I’m going to need therapy for the rest of my life! I don’t have insurance! I’ll have to get one of those cheap student therapists. Some white kid with an Indian name will tell me to meditate, and I don’t meditate!”) The scene when Vic and Stu visit a male strip club seems like a setup for gay panic humor, so it’s refreshing that instead Stu gratefully accepts relationship advice from a stripper (Steve Howey) who’s wearing only a lace collar and a Speedo. In a way, the ordinariness of Stuber’s generic pleasures is reassuring — we can and will do better. These actors do deserve as much.
Starring Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani. Directed by Michael Dowse. Written by Tripper Clancy. Rated R.