Worlds collide in 'Stuck'

Unimaginative script veers tragic film off course

Review -- C+

June 13, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Screenwriter John Strysik could have written the script for Stuck on Post-Its. It slaps endless reminders of social significance over the fictionalized case of a female driver who hit a pedestrian and left him snagged and disabled in her windshield.

In Stuck, the woman is Brandi (Mena Suvari), a nursing aide on the eve of a promotion at an assisted-living home. The man is Tom (Stephen Rea), a former member of the middle class who is struggling to keep his collar white though he's just been tossed from a fleabag hotel.

The movie uses their collision to stitch a miniature tapestry of American malaise. Miniature and, unfortunately, small-minded, too: The characters have the stature of mites.

Suvari's Brandi and Rea's Tom occupy the margins of society. But they live in different worlds. Brandi, a professionally sunny gal on the way up, cleans her patients gently, toadies to her superiors relentlessly and works off her frustrations with Ecstasy and ecstasy from her drug-dealer/lover, Rashid (Russell Hornsby). If Rea's Tom had retired instead of being laid-off, and he'd fallen ill instead of tumbling into indigence, Brandi might have been his lifesaver. Instead, he's an obstacle to her happiness and ambition.

With her pharmaceutical partying and her wrong-side-of-the-law boyfriend (who isn't as tough as he pretends to be), Brandi isn't confident enough in her own social status to call on proper authorities for help. Luckily, Suvari has a gift for volatility. She revels in Brandi's denial of responsibility and her belief that Tom's the one who behaves badly by refusing to die.

If Rea's performance and Stuart Gordon's direction were equally strong, Tom and Brandi might have lit up the screen like the opposing electrodes of an arc lamp. Tom has more lives than Rasputin; he should have the grit of someone who has nothing left to lose. But under Gordon's guidance, Rea's Tom doesn't grab at life, he merely shifts and shambles toward survival. Suvari reveals the monster under her go-getter. Rea betrays the soft belly of a perennial victim.

And Gordon? Well, the ebullient hell-raiser who made that cult classic The Re-Animator (1985) lets social consciousness stifle his beyond-baroque horror-movie instincts. This film is ultimately a horror movie, too, but it gets there via kitchen-sink realism - make that dirty-diaper realism. Gordon may think he's being honest and daring with his unblinking approach to blood, guts, and bodily functions, but he's just being unimaginative and relentless right up to the fiery climax.

Thanks to Suvari, audiences laugh nervously at the mortification of soul and flesh, but she doesn't really do them much of a favor. She simply keeps them watching as a would-be gross-out comedy turns into would-be gross-out tragedy.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

STUCK

(THINKfilm) Starring Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea. Directed by Stuart Gordon. Rated R for strong violence, nudity and language. Time 85 minutes.

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