Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Biggest Bug Your Windshield Ever Caught

There’s something truly lovable the directing style of Stuart Gordon, and I’m not ONLY talking about one of my all-time favorite killer doll films. Though he doesn’t necessarily boast the genre-making resume of someone like George Romero or Tobe Hooper, all Gordon’s work has an interesting, fairly intelligent yet unabashedly gory style that somehow feels less sleazy than so many of his cohorts.

Hence I greeted his latest feature, Stuck, with guarded enthusiasm, mostly due to the underwhelming reviews it had received. Thankfully, there’s no bravery-inducing charm quite like Netflix Instant Watch.
Quick Plot: Brandi (a cornrowed clad Mena Suvari) toils away at a nursing home, faithfully hosing down the incontinent as her boss dangles a possible promotion over her pug nose. Meanwhile, a soon-to-be homeless fortysomething named Tom (sad-faced Stephen Rea) shuffles around town just as Brandi drunkenly plows her car into his torso. In shock, Brandi pulls into her garage, Tom’s legs still jutting out her windshield.

That’s the main setup of Stuck, and it’s a pretty neat one at that. Also thrown into the mix are are Rashid, Brandi’s wannabe gangsta boyfriend, and a few colorful neighbors, including a sympathetic family of illegal immigrants. At its core though, Stuck is--or really, should be--a morality tale, a two-man showdown between a nothing-to-live-for bum and a life-finally-going-her-way young career woman (sorta).
The problem, at least from my high standards, is that Gordon seems to avoid what makes his story so fascinating. It’s amusing to watch Rashid reluctantly prove his non-badassness, but focusing on his and Brandi’s inept coverup is far less interesting than the psychology involved in doing so. When you have a truly gifted actor like Stephen Rea, why relegate him to moaning for help?

Having said this, I did enjoy Stuck as a breezy instant watch. It’s funny and something new, a well put together thriller comedy that never skims on blood or cruelty. It’s just not quite the movie it feels like it could have been.
High Points
Though he doesn’t get nearly enough to do, Stephen Rea brings his A-game, particularly in his early job-hunting sadsack scenes

Low Points
Mena Suvari will never be wrongly accused of being a good actress and though she's more adequate than usual here, I still wish her Brandi had a few more layers. We never really feel the inner struggle going on inside her in terms of do-I-kill-a-man-or-not, something that feels so missing when such a dilemma is the film’s main asset

Lessons Learned
Nothing sets a sexy mood better than a lava lamp
Corn rows flatter no white woman

Anybody can do anything to anyone and get away with it
Stuck is a pretty enjoyable little movie, but it lacks the smarts to really explore its setup. Perfectly adequate for Instant Watch, but not a film I’ll return to anytime soon. A when-you-get-the-chance recommendation for most, unless you’re a disturbed Suvari stalker (boobs are shown) or Suvari despiser (she still really can’t act). The Rea/Gordon ingredients help to even things out, but Stuck still feels like a bag of trail mix. Passable for a meal, with mild bursts of positive satisfaction. Then pretzels, which are TOTALLY fine....just not as good as those tasty chocolate covered raisins that your bag just never seems to have enough of.


  1. I know exactly what you mean about Stuart Gordon's film work - off beat, violent, witty and fiercely intelligent. I think he began his career in theatre, which kind of explains a few things. I haven't seen Stuck, but it has been on my radar for ages now - reading your review has refreshed my desire to check it out, even if you thought it could have been better.

    Best wishes for 2011!

  2. You know what's funny? I totally forgot that I watched this movie last year until I saw your post about it and said: "Oh, yeah...I saw that." Can't be a good thing, can it? While I don't quite agree that Mena is a bad actress, she's just not that interesting. (Although I thought she did kind of have some moments on Six Feet Under).

  3. Yup James, I do think the film is enjoyable and it is so BECAUSE it's a Gordon film, but I hold him to pretty high standards and just would've liked something a little stronger. Gordon fans should definitely check it out though.

    Dusty: I can see that on Mena. Maybe I was a tad hard on her, some leftover anger from the Day of the Dead remake. I liked her enough in Sugar & Spice I suppose. She does a not terrible job in Stuck, but I never bought any real inner conflict from the fact that she had a man's life in her hands.

  4. I think what has kept Gordan relevant and solid over the years, while many of his cohorts have drifted off into mediocrity, is he doesn't try and make just horror. The difference genre wise between films like King of the Ants, Dagon and Stuck is pretty vast, but the dark elements are always there. Very often with black comedic elements, as well.

    I reviewed Stuck way back at Paracinema and I quite loved it. I didn't have crazy expectations, though, but while it is far from perfect, the dark humor was enough to win me over. Just her cornrows alone are enough to make me giggle! My favorite line in the film is when she looks at Rea and says, with a serious face, "why are you doing this to me?!" Shit's hysterical!

  5. Good points Matt. Gordon does seem to have a great sense of humor that comes across pretty well, even in his darker stuff. Maybe I put him on a pedestal because of DOLLS, one of my all-time favorite films. I've enjoyed pretty much everything I've seen him do (even the MAsters of Horror!) but nothing has reached that anticky level.

    And yes, those cornrows were hilarious, as was that line. I did think this film was genuinely funny, but I guess I just wanted to see more of the conflict this woman would be facing. I never felt like Mena felt guilty for running this guy over, more just inconvenienced. I suppose that could be a character trait and a choice by the writer, but I just felt like the acutal moral question--what do you do if you're life is on the ups and you hit a man in the dumps who no one will miss?--was just never addressed.

  6. "I never felt like Mena felt guilty for running this guy over, more just inconvenienced"
    I think that was the point of her character- she was ultimately so self centred that her entire world view was about how the events would screw her career aspirations.

  7. Gah, you're probably right. I'm doing that terrible, very Gene Siskelly flaw of getting angry at a movie for not being the one I wanted, as opposed to judging it for what it is. Bad movieme, bad!

  8. Saw this a long while ago, and was definitely not impressed. But Mena was terrible. And those corn

  9. What, I thought men found cornrows on bad white actresses attractive? You're making me think I should totally cancel my 3 o'clock appointment at the salon....