Every time critics are ready to declare the hyper-violent buddy-cop movie is dead, along comes a movie like “Stuber” to show the genre is still alive, though just barely.
Wrestler-turned-actor Dave Baustista, so funny as the overly serious Drax in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, stars here as super-serious cop Vic Manning. He’s every ‘90s cop cliche rolled into one beefy burrito: He drives a vintage muscle car, he lives alone in an unkempt apartment, he has terrible communication skills with his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), and he’s hunting down the drug kingpin, Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), who’s responsible for the death of his partner (“Guardians” co-star Karen Gillan) in the movie’s prologue.
When his boss, Capt. Angie McHenry (Mira Sorvino), tells him the feds are taking over pursuit of Tedjo, Vic reluctantly lets it go. Since Vic is near-sighted — and losing his glasses in the prologue contributed to Tedjo getting away — he takes a day off to get Lasik surgery. That afternoon, though, he gets a tip about a big drug deal Tedjo is orchestrating. Barely able to see, Vic is forced to find alternate transportation, through the Uber app Nicole conveniently set up on his phone that same day.
This is how comedian Kumail Nanjiani enters the movie, as Stu, an Uber driver in a leased Nissan Leaf, desperate to get a five-star rating from his next fare. That, in writer Tripper Clancy’s connect-the-dots script, is how Vic ends up riding shotgun — and other weapons — in Stu’s car, following a thread of clues and leaving behind a trail of bodies.
Director Michael Dowse (‘What If,” “Goon”) takes Clancy’s script through its paces, never leaving in doubt that bullets and one-liners will be speeding past by the dozens as it moves toward a predictable outcome. Unlike an Uber ride, in “Stuber” it’s the journey not the destination that matters.
Bautista and Nanjiani turn out to be an effective comic pairing. Vic bemoans Stu’s thwarted ambitions — there’s a running subplot about Stu’s pining for his business partner, Becca (Betty Gilpin) — and Stu mocks Vic’s larger-than-life physicality. (Stu’s first words to Vic are: “Let me guess: You want me to drive you to all the Sarah Conners in the city.”)
Only toward the movie’s conclusion, as the characters’ nerves are frayed to the breaking point, does the comic chemistry really kick in, and Nanjiani and Bautista unload on each other to hilarious effect. If there’s a sequel to “Stuber,” one hopes the filmmakers skip the cop cliches and explosions, and just train the camera on these two for 90 minutes.
Opening Friday, July 12, in theaters everywhere. Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 93 minutes.