Stuck

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In 2001, a drunken Texas woman struck a homeless man with her car, then drove home with the victim still alive and lodged in her windshield. (Here’s a Wikipedia summary of the incident.) Rather than call an ambulance, she let the man die in her garage while she went in the house and had sex with her boyfriend. She’s now serving a 50-year term in prison.

It’s easy to see why a filmmaker with a fondness for morbid tales would want to adapt this for the silver screen, and Stuart Gordon, the twisted man behind such well-regarded Lovecraftian films as “Re-Animator,” is a good candidate for the job. But “Stuck,” while appropriately brutal and darkly funny, suffers from the story’s inherent thinness. She hits a guy; she drives home; he’s stuck in the windshield. How can you stretch that into a 90-minute feature?

Gordon does better with it than you might expect. He and screenwriter John Strysik (himself a horror veteran) start by introducing us to the two people whose lives will soon intersect. Brandi (Mena Suvari) is an aide at a nursing home whose job dedication has her on the fast track for a promotion. But her off hours are spent drinking and doing drugs — her boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby), is a dealer, so that’s handy — and she’s under the influence of all of the above when she speeds home one night and hits Tom (Stephen Rea). Tom was recently a respectable, fully employed businessman, now the victim of downsizing and reduced just this very day to living on the street after he couldn’t pay the rent at his flophouse.

Tom is alive but woozy, halfway through the passenger side of the windshield, with his legs — one now gruesomely broken — sticking out onto the hood. Brandi freaks out, drives home, locks the car in the garage, and tries to figure out what to do. Tom, meanwhile, regains consciousness and tries to extricate himself from his predicament.

The film addresses a number of social issues that would be impressive if it didn’t address them all halfheartedly. Among them: people’s mind-your-own-business attitude; immigrants who fear getting involved lest they be deported; the loss of dignity that comes with old age; the irresponsibility of youth; and the natural instinct to weasel your way out of trouble. Gordon could have developed any of these as predominant themes but instead merely tosses them out randomly before moving on to something else.

He does handle two elements particularly well, though: the gore, and the dark humor. Gordon does not shy away from the details of Tom’s injuries — did I mention the gruesomely broken leg? — and viewers who get a kick out of this sort of thing are bound to squirm at some of the more painful moments.

The humor is only slightly less subtle, and the point of view is summarized by one line from Brandi. As she tries to figure out what to do with the half-alive man stuck in her car, she says to him, “Why are you doing this to me?!” The story begins as a nightmare scenario for Brandi, making the viewer think, “What would I do if this happened? How would my life change?” But as Brandi consistently does the things that you and I would NOT do (I hope), it becomes gradually clear that she’s not the protagonist after all — Tom is. Brandi is the villain, a wholly unsympathetic character whom we eventually root against.

Gordon’s fantastic finale (which deviates considerably from the real-life story) is immensely satisfying, more than compensating for the prior weaknesses. “Stuck” is somewhat uneven, but the glass is half-full, not half-empty. Or, to put it another way, the man is halfway out of the car, not halfway in it. Take your pick.

B- (1 hr., 25 min.; R, some graphic sexuality and nudity, abundant harsh profanity, a lot of gory violence.)

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