So, his name is Stu, and he drives an Uber. This really is the sum total of what what qualifies for wit in Stuber, a deeply unsatisfying movie that typifies almost everything wrong with comedies in modern American cinema, save one: it appears to have a proper screenplay, by Tripper Clancy, and not just a series of notes for the actors to improvise scenes. I imagine that improv is not part of Dave Bautista's skill set. At any rate, it's a clearly-structured story with foreshadowing, callbacks, payoffs, and an arc, and in at least some of these ways, it is surprisingly competent and intentional. That this counts as a "surprise" is hugely depressing. Oh, and also it's a tight 93 minutes long, so even though it's dull and unfunny, at least it's not dull, unfunny, and slow-moving.

Anyway, as mentioned, his name is Stu, and he drives an Uber. He's also played by Kumail Nanjiani, who is having a hell of a bad 2019: it has only been a wee bit more than two years since The Big Sick gave him such a commanding big-screen coming-out party, and now between Stuber and his voicework in Men in Black: International, he's already arrived at "Christ, this guy" levels of annoyance for me. It doesn't help that Stu and Pawny (his MIB:I character) are irritating in almost exactly the same way, revealing almost exactly the same lazy tic: both rely on deadpan line delivery that oozes too-cool-for-school cynicism, manifesting as a choppy sarcasm that drips with self-satisfied contempt. A little bit of it goes a long way, though it goes longer in Stuber, given that he is the main character and therefore gets to do a bit more than just dispense withering jokes.

Which is good, because the jokes he dispense are pretty damn dire. I will not say that Clancy's screenplay is bereft of humor, but it's certainly not suffering from a surplus of it. The fact that Stuber is so much about Uber that its very title relies on it is a sign of exactly what you might fear: this is a film extremely, exhaustingly Of The Moment, with the caveat that the Moment was more like the fall of 2017 than the summer of 2019, and it somehow already feels dated. God knows how it will feel to the people who trip over it 10 or 20 years down the line, assuming that such a thing ever happens. At any rate, the film is extremely invested in rifling through the cultural lexicon, apparently in the hopes that this will allow it to connect with young, plugged-in professionals who will be delighted to watch a movie about the world they inhabit. It doesn't do anything with this. This is not, in any meaningful sense, a film about Uber, which is frankly baffling given its narrative. Stu has been struck with a lot of bad luck, you see, and he's hovering just barely above a 4.0 rating, and if he falls below this threshold, he no longer gets to drive for Uber. And that's why he puts up with the incomparable bullshit of a cop, Vic (Bautista), who just had laser eye correction surgery and so can't see to drive himself, commandeering his car for a whole day of driving around hunting a mysterious, violent drug dealer, Tedjo (Iko Uwais, who I will not say is wasted by the movie, only because the word "wasted" isn't nearly big or angry enough). Basically, he needs a five-star rating, so badly that he'll put up with any amount of abuse and terror.

There's something satiric in that; there's also something rather awfully laborious in that, but you can sort of see the way to a story in which a beleaguered, put-upon Uber drone is forced into increasingly awful behavior for the privilege of keeping their miserable, dignity-sapping job. Stuber isn't that movie at all: it genuinely doesn't seem to think for even the length of one whole scene that Stu's situation is some kind of gross perversion of human decency. Uber isn't here to make a comment about Uber, or the sharing economy, or any other damn thing; it's here because Uber is tres-2010s, and by virtue of making its central to the plot, Stuber seems to think that it automatically gets to be meaningfully about The World In Which We Live.

Same with the character arcs: Vic is a shitty dad to his adult daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), caring too much about being a manly, unfeeling cop who mocks anything sensitive and emotional in others; Stu is so invested in sensitivity that he's spent his entire life serving as a hapless doormat for Becca (Betty Gilpin), his dear friend whom he's in love with, though he would never offend her by saying it. Naturally, over the course of the movie, each man learns from the other to be healthier in their actions, because this is a plot dynamic as old as putting mismatched male characters in a dramatic scenario. Only Stuber, to judge from some of the dialogue it hands off to Stu, seems to think that it's doing something new; it feels extremely obvious that everybody involved with making it was thrilled about how they've made a commentary on toxic masculinity, as though simply having one man say the word "problematic" in front of another man is doing anything active, or interesting, or fresh. It's the same as the Uber thing: the film simply declares itself to be on-trend, and then doesn't bother backing that up.

Mind you, none of the above would matter in the slightest if Stuber was actually funny. It's definitely not, though Nanjiani and Bautista do spark some meager amount of chemistry. Even at 93 minutes, too much of the film is repetitive: Vic says something cutting and harsh, Stu gets flustered and shrill, an action scene takes place. That action, for the record, is beyond shitty: director Michel Dowse has never made any sort of action genre film (and his comedies are nothing to celebrate: his last film, six years ago, was the grating romcom What If, almost as tetchy in its stiff "let's be hip!" impulses as Stuber), and while the film is merely unengaging as a comedy, it becomes actively horrible during the setpieces, which are generally shot with dizzying handheld camera that mistakes "visually confusing" for "intense and exciting". But it is kind of a nice relief from the comedy, which finds Nanjiani using the same vocal register over and over again, and Bautista somehow managing to use no vocal register whatsoever, while devastatingly uninspired quips shamefully make their way out of both actors' lips. If you've seen the trailer, not only have you seen all of the best jokes, you've even seem some jokes that are better if you don't know their narrative context. And it was already a pretty rough trailer, though still more appealing than the aesthetic vulgarity of naming a movie "Stuber" in the first place.