‘Stuber’ may be the ugliest movie of 2019, and the stupidest

Give “Stuber” points for fair warning: Right out of the gate, a character makes a crude joke about anal sex, before embarking on a hyperviolent fight scene that’s as unattractively filmed as it is unnecessarily protracted and spatially nonsensical.

Dave Bautista, left, plays a police detective recovering from eye surgery, and Kumail Nanjiani is his Uber driver in “Stuber.” (Photo: Mark Hill, Twentieth Century Fox via The Washington Post)

Welcome to the dog days of summer, when the balletic fight choreography of “John Wick” has given way to inanity, incoherence and in-your-face mayhem. As instantly disposable as a snow cone, “Stuber” melts twice as fast, leaving an even ickier residue.

Dave Bautista plays Vic, a Los Angeles police detective who is determined to collar a notorious crime kingpin (Iko Uwais). When he gets an important lead after undergoing laser eye surgery, Vic has to rely on the services of an Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a mild-mannered young man who has been nicknamed “Stuber” by the snarky manager at the sporting-goods store where he works at his day job.

In a plot that plays like the sophomoric-stunt version of Michael Mann’s classic L.A. noir “Collateral,” Stu and Vic wind up on a restless peregrination through the city, roaming from Koreatown to Compton to Long Beach to Venice, a dreary crook’s tour punctuated by moments of sharing, caring, slapstick comedy and sadistic gunplay.

Famous for his gruff portrayal of the tattooed behemoth Drax in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies,” Bautista doubles down on the tough-guy shtick here as a man haunted by a traumatic professional loss and a fractured relationship with his daughter (Natalie Morales). Ever a good sport – especially during gags centered on Vic’s post-op vision problems – Bautista is trapped in “Stuber,” delivering a mumbly-grumbly performance that grows more monotonous with every monotone grunt. Directed by Michael Dowse from a script by Tripper Clancy, this might be the ugliest movie of 2019, its herky-jerky camera work and editing only slightly less off-putting than the sloppy digital photography that, in lowlight scenes, reduces the protagonists to the visual equivalent of oil slicks.

The saving grace of “Stuber,” unsurprisingly, is Nanjiani, whose combination of deadpan anxiety, understated quick-wittedness and native sweetness almost manages to overcome the dreadful material at hand. But even Nanjiani’s endearingly funny turn isn’t enough to elevate “Stuber” above its own trite, lazy aspirations. He might drive away with the movie, he just doesn’t drive far enough.

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