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MRQE Top Critic

The Sweet Hereafter

(review...)

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Stuberville

Stu and Vic sharing more than a ride
Stu and Vic sharing more than a ride

It’s been a while since an alleged comedy has been this relentlessly unappealing and maliciously stupid. Yes. It’s one of “those” comedies: All of the best laughs are in the trailer, with plenty of room to spare.

The shame of it all is the basic premise is a pretty good one. A brash cop gets entangled with an Uber driver and all sorts of mayhem ensues on the streets of Los Angeles.

If only the C-list creatives behind this urban nightmare of a movie had thought it through a little bit more. There’s a treasure trove of material to mine. Think about all of the news headlines about ridesharing. There’s the gross stuff (germs, dirty back seats). There are the true-life horror stories of people getting in the wrong car and then getting murdered. There are the conversations (think Taxicab Confessions… or not). The streets are teeming with rideshare stories; quirky personalities abound behind the wheel. Those are non-traditional personalities as the profession moves away from the union label. All those rideshare drivers out there with dreams, interesting side jobs, intriguing backgrounds.

Yeah. Sorry, Uberville. This movie’s not for you.

So many directions to take the material. Maybe it’s only fitting, then, Stuber winds up going the wrong way.

Uber Pool

The movie’s aggressive tone is set during a pre-title episode. There’s a major drug bust going down in a posh hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Two cops trade bullets with a trio of thugs. Thoughts drift to Lethal Weapon. Maybe there’s something here; some brutal action mixed with humor that’s still finding it’s mark.

As the action unfolds, one of the cops, Sara (Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in an alarmingly small role), is killed. That leaves Vic (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) without his partner and without his eyeglasses, which fell off during the hotel room dust-up.

Pick it up 6 months later and Vic’s still searching for Sara’s killer. But, as an expression of personal betterment (let’s put a positive on this mess anywhere it’s possible), Vic decides to get LASIK eye surgery. As it happens, it’s on the same day as his daughter’s art show. And, piling it on, it’s the same day of a major drug deal that’ll potentially serve as a window of opportunity to nab Vic’s target.

Skipping the spin, the setup is pure contrivance.

After his morning surgery, Vic’s told he should take it easy for the rest of the day. No driving.

Well, that advice goes right out the back window. No sooner is the surgery complete than the news breaks about the next big heroin deal. Vic gets behind the wheel and wrecks all sorts of stuff — yards, trees and Bautista’s career all get barreled over. This (unfunny) running joke about Vic’s post-op blurred vision goes on for the bulk of the movie.

After Vic totals his car, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick) enters the picture. Stu drives for Uber. Hence, Stuber.

Clyft

Let’s cut to the chase.

Stuber is devoid of any likable characters. There are so many unconvincing characters polluting the screen, it makes quality, robust comedies like Game Night and Nice Guys all the more remarkable for their character development, comedic timing and feats of humor. Heck, even Taxi Driver has more laughs than this cinematic assault. (Ouch. Okay. That was a purely gratuitous jab.)

Lazy effort is put into making Vic sympathetic. He’s lost a partner. He’s had LASIK surgery. But he’s a cop who is apparently clueless about how the world works.

And Stu? Good grief. Nanjiani’s character is nothing more than a cheap copy of Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory. He constantly throws out pop culture references: Sarah Connor (The Terminator), Grey Gardens, When Harry Met Sally, Jaws, a ridiculously long rundown on The NeverEnding Story. He’s a sensitive man-child, completely emasculated. He has a crush on a business partner, Becca (Betty Gilpin, Isn’t It Romantic), who has bad taste in men. But at least Vic tries to help Stu get his manhood back and teaches him how to stand up for himself.

As far as Hollywood movie dream girls go, Becca is remarkably unappealing. She seems to share Stu’s relatively low IQ. They’ve co-signed on a lease for space to operate fitness center catering to women. They want to call it Spinster. (Hey! Spinning classes! Get it?) The negative connotation of “spinster” and women doesn’t faze Stu or Becca. It’s a fair joke, but there’s no payoff. The opportunity to “spin” it into something clever is thrown away.

Carma

While “spinster” doesn’t pay off, Stuber manages to contrive two other attempts at pay-offs.

One is completely, utterly inconsequential and doesn’t generate even a whiff of the dramatic tension that’s intended (in that regard, it’s much like M. Night Shyamalan’s “big reveal” in Glass).

The other stems from a conversation between Vic and Stu in the early-going. Stu asks if Vic’s ever taken a bullet for a partner (as in, jumped in front of an on-coming bullet). Vic plays down the stereotypical action seen in movies. But, ultimately, it leads to a climactic joke and payoff that lands with a whimper instead of applause.

That whimper, once again, is simply because there’s no reason to care about any of these characters.

Sigh. Stuber’s only 90 minutes. But it’s 90 minutes of pain with zero to gain. Through it all, there’s only one moment that has any degree of resonance. It involves a question posed to Stu: What’s your passion? He has to think about it and comes up with this observation: Los Angeles is full of people with passion. What the city needs is more people who are willing to settle for less.

To that end, Stuber succeeds in delivering less.