071119-blm-lif-stuber (copy)

Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani star in "Stuber." 


Stu is an Uber driver. Movies — and movie titles — have sprung from worse premises, and so now we have “Stuber,” a buddy action-comedy that stars Kumail Nanjiani as Stu and Dave Bautista as Vic, a belligerent L.A. cop he gets stuck with for a very noisy, very bloody 93 minutes. If only the results were half as elegantly stupid as that title, a portmanteau of two words joined intuitively by a shared vowel. The movie, directed by Michael Dowse (“Goon”) from a script by Tripper Clancy, is a much clunkier hybrid.

As with a lot of slam-bang ’80s-flavored comedies involving mismatched duos and haphazard attempts at law enforcement, it sounds promising enough on paper. You probably know Bautista as the hulking Drax the Destroyer from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and you may recall Nanjiani’s winning turn as another down-on-his-luck Uber driver in “The Big Sick.” “Stuber” does what movies like this usually do: It smashes its two leads together repeatedly like cymbals, in hopes that their vast differences in personality, emotional intelligence and body type will achieve something approaching a lively comic rhythm.

But the beats that ensue are mostly flat and monotonous — and not terribly funny, despite Nanjiani’s improvisational flair, his ability to find the spluttering poetry in every word of protest. Without the actor’s quick-witted delivery, Stu would be little more than a thin stereotype of beta-male passivity. When he isn’t getting picked on at the sporting-goods store where he works — or pining for his friend Becca (Betty Gilpin), who’s too busy dating sleazebags to notice him — Stu supplements his meager income as an Uber driver, a job that comes with humiliations of its own.

Due to several ride mishaps (and a few unambiguously racist passengers), Stu’s driver rating has taken a dip, and he desperately needs a five-star ride to keep his job. That makes him putty in the hands of his latest passenger, Vic (Bautista), a detective hellbent on avenging the murder of his partner (Karen Gillan) by a ruthless heroin dealer named Teijo (Indonesian star Iko Uwais). Unfortunately, due to a poorly timed LASIK operation, Vic has temporarily blurred vision and thus requires Stu to chauffeur him all over the L.A. area in pursuit of various leads.

Of the many poorly served talents here, including Gilpin and Mira Sorvino as Vic’s police captain, none is more wasted than Iko Uwais, who established himself in “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2” as one of the most exhilarating martial artists on the planet. He’s introduced in an action sequence so incoherently choreographed, photographed and edited that it practically amounts to an aesthetic crime, the equivalent of feeding Wagyu ribeye through a meat grinder. I kept hoping things would improve after that early nadir, but unfortunately, “Stuber” is as “Stuber” does.

(R, 1 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 33 min.)

– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


You don’t need to know an aria from a canzonetta — or, for that matter, even know that they’re operatic terms — to appreciate the documentary “Pavarotti.” That’s because director Ron Howard is more interested in the performer Luciano Pavarotti than in his performances.

The legendary tenor was a compendium of contradictions. A bear of a man — in pictures taken during his early 20s, he could pass for an NFL defensive lineman — with a voice powerful enough to penetrate steel, he wowed people with his humility.

A dedicated family man shown in home movies frolicking with his children, he also was the subject of tabloid-fodder romances with women barely old enough to qualify as women. He was an enthusiastic world traveler, but so loved the pasta from his Italian homeland that he would pack a dozen suitcases with food.

One of the most striking contradictions was his body language. In public, he beamed a contagious, carefree smile. But privately, he suffered. Growing up during World War II, he tells of having to step over dead bodies when he went outside. He fathered twin children, one of whom was stillborn.

Pavarotti’s domestic life was anything but tranquil: After 34 years of marriage punctuated by affairs, he divorced his wife to marry his young personal assistant and fathered a child the same age as his grandchild. One of his three daughters refused to have anything to do with him after that. Somehow, the affable Howard convinced all of them to be interviewed on camera. (Not at the same time, of course.)

The movie doesn’t ignore Pavarotti’s magnificent singing. It is, after all, the reason for his fame. But opera buffs hoping for two hours of digitally remastered solos blasting from a wall of Dolby speakers will be disappointed. As “Pavarotti” demonstrates, while the music was mesmerizing, so was the man.

(PG-13, 3 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 54 min.)

– Jeff Strickler, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)


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