2008-05-30 (Limited release)

Well, that’s the world we are living in now. People are very selfish and afraid.

Stuart Gordon

Brandi (Mena Suvari) works at an old folks’ home. It’s tedious, you know, because she delivers meds on a tray in slow motion, and the client who likes her most, Mr. Binkley (Wayne Robson), calls her in to help when he’s been “bad again”: she pulls back his sheet to reveal a big brown mess of poop, and she barely reacts. Same old.

It’s a grim routine, but then again, it’s not so grim as the situation facing Tom (Stephen Rea). As Stuart Gordon’s Stuck grinds into gear, Tom is evicted from his flea-baggy apartment, forced to leave his meager belongings behind. Informed by his landlord, “You pay or your stuff stays: your choice,” Tom looks suitably bedraggled as he heads to the Employment Services office in his beat suit. Here he faces another “choice”: fill out a form to get an appointment with a counselor, even though he’s already got an appointment, as it says on the paper he clutches, the result of that previous form-filling. “If you want to follow procedure, we can work with you,” says the man behind the desk. “If not, it’s your choice.”

Tom is stuck, no doubt about it. And while he tries to catch some few minutes of sleep on a park bench, Brandi and her coworker/best friend Tanya (Rukiya Bernard) let off steam at a club, their efforts to escape enhanced by pills popped on their tongues by Brandi’s man, Rashid (Russell Hornsby). In case the poop scene at film’s start isn’t enough to remind you of Gordon’s proudly low-budget horror-culty past (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Rashid rolling up in a black leather jacket looking all B-movie jaunty will close that deal. But even as you appreciate the pointed stereotyping, pleased with yourself that you get the jokes, the movie comes with something else. Locating the B-movie potential in tabloid news, it proceeds to deliver the ultimate stuckness.

That is: Brandi’s driving home, high, bored, and distracted by her cell phone, and slams smack into Tom, trundling his newly acquired shopping cart with bundled clothing across the empty street. Whaaaa! She screams. He crashes through her windshield. Broken glass, blood everywhere. Yuck.

Following the example of Chante Jawan Mallard, the Texas woman who hit a homeless man with her car, then left him bleeding in her windshield until he died, Brandi drives home in a panic and hides her vehicle in her garage. The social commentary is not subtle: Brandi screeches past a cop on the sidewalk, so intent on harassing a homeless black man that he doesn’t even turn around to see this white girl with a bloody body in her windshield. When she gets home, Brandi gives her dilemma some brief thought, or so it seems. When she tells Rashid she’s hit someone, she leaves out the part that the man remains in her windshield and falls into her lover’s arms for a night of impassioned and mundane moaning (“Yeah, baby!”), all audible to Tom, who remains conscious, if stuck.

The hysteria doesn’t stop. With each choice she makes, Brandi exacerbates the problem. When she sees Tom is in fact awake the next morning, she promises to call someone, then whomps him in the head when he insists on pressing the horn on the steering wheel. At work, she realizes she’s left her phone in the car just as the film shows Tom reaching for it, emphasis again on the blood on his hand and blood on the sea, Tom blurry and anguished as the cell lies just beyond reach in the shot’s clearly focused foreground. When at last he achieves his goal and makes his call, he can’t tell the 911 operator where he is: “I’m in a garage! I’m in a car! A car!”

When a young Latino neighbor, Pedro (Martin Moreno), happens by and hears noises from Brandi’s garage, he spots Tom through the window and insists his mother (Lorena Rincon) come see too. Though they’re inclined to “help,” dad (Mauricio Hoyos) resists, envisioning media and interviews, cops and deportation. “It’s not our problem,” he declares. “Why the hell were you poking around in someone else’s garage?” With the chance of Pedro’s sympathy pretty much quashed by his father’s not unreasonable but wholly troubling fears, the film returns to its relentless focus on Tom’s efforts at escape and Brandi’s at denial. Cruel and sad and bizarre, the film doesn’t press its comedy or jaw-dropping circumstances, but offers up both in clever compositions and visual gagginess. Tom flops and pivots, grinding his torso over jagged shards, pulling himself off a metal spike, gore and pain rendered in ways that are vaguely “realistic” (at least as far as cheesy effects go) and simultaneously preposterous.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Brandi demands of her guest. He’s suitably stunned: “You can’t treat me like this.” Neither can imagine the other’s fear and torment and neither feels the need to try. Their back-and-forthing can lead nowhere, per the film’s title. Everyone’s stuck. That’s not to say the film doesn’t pass judgment or that especially righteous punishment is not visited upon assorted offenders. Quite happily politically incorrect, Stuck pins everyone, including viewers.

RATING 6 / 10