It wasn’t that large a wager. But someone in Hollywood has risked some money and a July release date on Kumail Nanjiani. And the name of the bet is “Stuber.”
Nanjiani is South Asian, specifically Pakistani. So here’s another growing minority represented among the season’s cinematic leads. Moviegoers may remember his film “The Big Sick.” It would be good if they did. That was a movie comedy depending on Nanjiani and it wasn’t very funny.
Same thing with “Stuber.” Nanjiani isn’t someone audiences will take to. And to complicate the problem, he’s been cast here with former pro wrestler and fellow hyphenated-American Dave Bautista, one of the stars of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. And one does like his gruff characters.
But look at it this way: Things could be worse for the title character of “Stuber.” He could appear in scenes with Mira Sorvino, the Oscar winner who is slumming here as a heavy.
This is not to say that nothing in the movie works. The story is about an Uber driver, which makes it feel contemporary. It has a dog in it. Stuber is investing in a “spin gym.” Victor (Bautista) has Lasik surgery during the film. All these pieces fit together.
The problem seems to be Nanjiani. And the proof of that is that the action sequences (Bautista dominated) go a lot better than does the comedy (Nanjiani provided).
Stuber is a clerk in a big-box sporting goods store. Evenings and weekends he drives a Nissan Leaf — an electric car — taking paying strangers to their destinations. He has saved enough money for a half interest in Becca’s new women’s gym. Because workouts there will rely on elastic resistance moving a suspended disc, they will call their investment the “Spin-ster.”
The clerk would like a romance with Becca. This is why he has invested in her business. One night she discovers her current beau is philandering. So Stuber wants to take one last Uber call, win a five-star review, and then go to comfort the suddenly available object of his affections.
But the call he gets is from an L.A. police detective. While coming out of surgery, Vic gets a call from an informant who tells him that Tedjo, a cop killer, is making a large drug “drop” that night. Vic needs to go to “Korea Town” to find the informant and learn where and when the drugs are going to be delivered.
But Vic can’t really see. And besides, he’s supposed to be going to the opening of an art show where his daughter’s sculpture will be displayed. So he’s short with prissy, whining, straight up and down Stuber.
Smartphones figure here as more than ride-hailing devices. When Vic finds his informant dead, he uses the guy’s cellphone memory to track one suspect to an address in Long Beach. Then he makes Stuber drive him out to the original home of the ‘70s band War.
He grabs the guy. Stuber shoots the perp by mistake. Off to a veterinary hospital they take the wounded man and a pit bull the guy’s friends have forced to eat packets of drugs. Still the suspect won’t talk, so Stuber takes his phone and begins sending off messages to the dealer’s contacts, messages that suggest he is interested in homosexual sex.
That piece of extortion wins the disclosure of the place and time of the “drop.” But that isn’t the only reference to homosexuality. The two men visit the dressing room at a strip bar where the talent is all male. Here Stuber gets into a lengthy conversation with a stripper who is considerably more adept at putting over jokes than is he.
There’s also a scene in a hot sauce factory, though the plot doesn’t much capitalize on the possibilities there. And if it weren’t for the movie’s action sequences — driving, fighting, running, and shooting — the fun would run down like the Leaf’s battery — long before the movie is over.
Moviegoers can thank goodness that Bautista has nearly as much to do with the effect of the story as does Nanjiani. But they may wonder if the lukewarm welcome “The Big Sick” got shouldn’t have indicated that there are other, more likable South Asian actors out there, ready for casting.