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'Stuber' review: Action-comedy stalls out

From left, Kumail Nanjiani, Rene Moran and Dave

From left, Kumail Nanjiani, Rene Moran and Dave Bautista in "Stuber," in theaters Friday. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film/Hopper Stone

PLOT A mild-mannered Uber driver becomes chauffer to a hard-charging cop.

CAST Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Betty Gilpin

RATED R (some bloody violence)

LENGTH 1:33

BOTTOM LINE An action-comedy on auto-pilot.

Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani team up for "Stuber," the story of a hard-hitting police detective who drags a knock-kneed Uber driver into his latest case. "Stuber" is a vehicle, forgive the pun, for its two leads: Bautista, a wrestler-turned-actor whose deadpan comic delivery is a high point of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, and Nanjiani, a stand-up comedian still basking in the goodwill generated by his heartfelt 2017 rom-com, "The Big Sick." Both are well-liked faces but not yet full-blown stars. 

"Stuber," released by 20th Century Fox, feels like the big time: an R-rated comedy opening at American multiplexes in the middle of summer. For Bautista and Nanjiani, it's a test-drive of their star power. Unfortunately, this weakly-structured comedy turns them both into crash-test dummies. 

Nanjiani plays Stu, a low-paid employee at a big-box store who moonlights as an Uber driver in Los Angeles. One evening, Stu picks up Vic (Bautista), a cop who is in the middle of tracking down a local drug kingpin (Iko Uwais). Why does a cop need an Uber? Where's Vic's Crown Vic? Turns out the guy just had Lasik surgery and can barely see, a predicament that leads to such Mr. Magoo moments as fistfights with mannequins and conversations with people who are dead. Stu puts up with this half-blind yet trigger-happy cop for one reason: He's desperate for a five-star rating. 

Clearly, this is not going to be "Lethal Wuber." For one thing, director Michael Dowse has difficulty blending the genres of action and comedy. He launches the movie with a straightforward action sequence that includes some fairly strong choreography between Bautista and Uwais (an Indonesian martial artist who handled himself well in "Mile 22") and an unnecessary amount of bloodshed. When Stu shows up, though, the movie shifts into Judd Apatow gear, complete with an emotionally needy love interest, Becca (Betty Gilpin, channeling Leslie Mann). As the film progresses, the small-bore jokes about app technology sit awkwardly next to the big-gauge bullet wounds. 

Nanjiani is ill-used in "Stuber." His drippy character isn't very compelling and the overall script (by Tripper Clancy) feels fairly anemic, yet it's Nanjiani's job to make all the jokes. That's too much to ask of nearly anyone, let alone a gentle comic presence like Nanjiani. Bautista fares better by turning in a solid, near-dramatic performance as a hard-charging cop. Like the mirthless alien he plays in "Guardians of the Galaxy," Bautista's Vic doesn’t think anything is funny — and that's precisely what makes us laugh. 

Overall, due to poor navigation and tepid driver conversation, "Stuber" gets a low star rating.

FOUR MORE

Dave Bautista, the professional wrestler turned thespian, has said he wants to become a serious actor, not just a franchise star. Here's how four of his compatriots have fared in Hollywood:

DWAYNE JOHNSON No ring-to-screen story has a happier ending than Johnson’s. The star of “Rampage,” “Jumanji” and the “Fast and Furious” franchise is one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors; he recently signed a Netflix film deal for $20 million.

JOHN CENA The wrestler and onetime rapper (!) has made his share of action films, including 2006's "The Marine," but he's found unexpected success in such comedies as "Trainwreck," "Sisters" and "Blockers." Cena has also achieved that new bench mark of fame, becoming a meme. (Google him.)

ANDRE THE GIANT The French wrestler, literally diagnosed with gigantism and standing an awesome 7 feet, 4 inches tall, is best remembered as Fezzik, the amiable behemoth in "The Princess Bride" (1987).

"ROWDY" RODDY PIPER Over his long film and television career, Piper never took himself too seriously. His most memorable role remains John Nada, a drifter who discovers that society is being overrun by space-aliens, in John Carpenter's cult classic "They Live" (1988).

—RAFER GUZMAN

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