Inspired by a real-life incident so bizarre it’s already been referenced in a “Law & Order” episode, “Stuck” is ingeniously nasty and often shockingly funny as it incrementally worsens a very bad situation, then provides a potent payoff with the forced feeding of just desserts. This darkly comical farce could command an enthusiastic cult during carefully calibrated theatrical rollout, especially if it generates want-to-see buzz in key regions of the blogosphere. But it’s difficult to tell whether helmer Stuart Gordon’s sardonically edgy pic will reach many mainstream auds before fast-forwarding to homevid.
Working from a crafty script by John Strysik, Gordon establishes a heightened-reality tone of bleak hilarity early on while introing two lead characters: Tom (Stephen Rea), a sad-eyed schlump who has lost his job to downsizing; and Brandi (Mena Suvari), a dedicated retirement-home caregiver who devotes far too much of her downtime to partying, drinking and drugging.
After enduring a long day of frustrations and humiliations –he’s kicked out of his apartment, then brushed off by a state employment office clerk — Tom thinks he’s hit rock bottom when he’s reduced to spending the night on a park bench. Unfortunately, he winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time just as Brandi puts pedal to the metal.
Brandi is understandably upsetwhen Tom’s broken body flies through her windshield. Still, she has sufficient presence of mind to drive home, stow her car in her garage — even as a semiconscious, sporadically moaning Tom remains stuck in place — and, come morning, take a cab to work. She’s really bummed out by what has happened, but she knows that spilling the beans about her hit-and-run accident might dampen her possible promotion.
So Brandi asks Rashid (Russell Hornsby), her drug-dealing boyfriend, to dispose of the inconvenient body. But there’s a complication: The body isn’t quite dead. Indeed, the longer he remains trapped in the windshield, the more time Tom has to gather strength for the slow and painful process of escape.
Given Gordon’s notoriety as the cult-fave auteur of “Re-Animator” (1985) and “From Beyond” (1986), it shouldn’t be surprising that “Stuck” includes a few quease-inducing scenes of messy mayhem and seriocomic suffering. But the pic is more unsettling — and most hilarious — when the violence is emotional, not physical, as Brandi gradually reveals the full measure of her sociopathic selfishness.
Gordon and Strysik advance their mordantly outrageous yet perversely logical narrative through the steady accumulation of unlucky breaks, impulsive decisions and ironic twists. Up to a point, auds may actually view the increasingly frantic Brandi as deserving of at least some sympathy. Once that point is past, however, “Stuck” kicks into overdrive, propelled by the giddy exhilaration always ignited when filmmakers more or less announce that all bets are off.
Suvari is fearlessly effective as she charts Brandi’s devolution from distraught screw-up to unhinged harpy, making each step in the transformation seem at once unexpected and inevitable. She offers excellent counterpoint to Rea, whose pitch-perfect performance suggests that the best hope for a loser is to be placed in a situation where you have absolutely nothing left to lose. Hornsby earns his own share of laughs by playing tough-talking Rashid as no match for tougher-talking women.
Pic overall has the look and feel of a tawdry B-movie. Whether that’s due to budgetary limitations or artistic inspiration, it serves the material well.