***/**** Image B Sound A Extras B-
starring Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Russell Hornsby, Rukiya Bernard
screenplay by John Strysik
directed by Stuart Gordon
by Walter Chaw Stuart Gordon, the man who gave us the Lovecraftian splatter film, has, lately, gone in for non-supernatural frights: first with the snake-infested well of man's self-interest in the irresistibly pulpy King of the Ants; then with his superb Mamet adaptation Edmund; and now with his inspired-by-a-true-story drive-in high-concept flick Stuck. The transition from Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos to the mendacity of mere humanity is less a leap in that Gordon to me has always been best when dealing with how the mundane is often just the thin candy shell over the boiling mess of our fetid Id--whether that Id manifests as the cellar of elder gods or, just as unspeakable, the lizard brain for which Lovecraft's bogeys are the metaphor, anyway. Stuck takes as its inspiration the story of 25-year-old nurse's aid Chante Mallard, who, one night flying high on alcohol and X, embedded one Gregory Biggs in her windshield and left him to die there over the course of two days. Gordon's film wonders what would've happened should Biggs have survived and, over the course of those same two days, gathered enough wits and strength to exact some measure of justice on his torturer. A delicious conceit, free of irony and post-modern self-awareness, it's funny without being snarky about it, delighting in the solipsistic desire of his Mallard, nursing home aide Brandi (Mena Suvari, dirtying up better here than in Spun), to not jeopardize a pending job promotion by reporting that guy stuck in her windshield. The guy, Tom (Stephen Rea), has fallen on hard times himself; if anything, Stuck is a diary of the modern malady of what happens when people can't make a living doing honest work and so find themselves stripped of dignity (sometimes literally) and exiled from civilization.
Tom, reduced to meat and gristle, rediscovers the engine beneath civilization's machine (think of the film as a piquant, tabloid reduction of Nietzsche's Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) as something like a Guillermo del Toro clockwork abomination. Note his instruments of escape are not an abandoned cell phone or the plaintive honk of his gulag's bell, but rather phalluses in the form of pen and pistol. Tom is like Sam Raimi's Evil Dead avatar, Ash: a nebbish who finds out under extraordinary duress that he's a superhero with a very specific gift for kicking unrighteous ass. The visceral pleasures of Stuck are obvious (if not as goopy as the long-time Gordon fanboy might hope), with Rea and Suvari matched evenly in their own isolated incredulity. The picture is lean and unforgiving, edited with a razored economy and scripted with a wry, world-weary indifference that marks Gordon's work with the sort of gallows humour that greases nihilism's gear. Stuck is, in its way, an instant relic: the drive-in movie that uses America's automotive fetishism as bludgeon and, ultimately, the populist triumvirate of Judge, Jury, and Holy Executioner. Pair it with Tarantino's Death Proof for another grindhouse double feature. Originally published: May 30, 2008.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Image brings Stuck to Blu-ray in a difficult 1.78:1, 1080p presentation. Shot in Super16, the film has a naturally grainy patina that gets sanded down as it progresses into darkness, flattening the image. A smattering of pinhole-artifacts and a certain softness go with the territory, but there's no valid excuse for the eventual overapplication of DVNR. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, on the other hand, is irreproachable, packing a punch and filling the room at every logical opportunity, never sounding distorted or imbalanced. And after level-matching, I still found it to be far more dynamic than the Dolby Digital 5.1 alternative. On another track, find a shallow but congenial commentary featuring director Stuart Gordon, actress/producer Mena Suvari, and screenwriter John Strysik. Probably the most noteworthy topic of discussion concerns the political implications of the Suvari character's cornrows, but the participants pass it around like a hot potato before resuming a pattern of light wisecracking. I wish that Russell Hornsby ("Rashid") had joined the fray, not just so he could add his perspective on the race issue but also to hear about his alleged channelling of the Cowardly Lion firsthand.
Four repetitive standard-def featurettes--"Driving Forces: Director Stuart Gordon and Writer John Strysyk" (8 mins.), "The Gory Details: Special Effects and Makeup" (9 mins.), "Ripped from the Headlines: Behind the Scenes and Actual News Footage" (17 mins.), "Interviews and Exclusive Footage from The AFI Dallas International Film Festival" (24 mins.)--do little but abridge the aforementioned yakker. Some overheated narration hardly helps, while the AFI sit-downs with Strysik and Stephen Rea are squirm-inducing and the titular promise of "Actual News Footage" is a flat-out lie, unless you count illegible newspaper clippings as "footage." (The disc's producers have clearly taken the picture's mock-tabloid PR campaign much too much to heart.) The one moment that stood out for me, recycled a couple of times, is when Gordon claims that Stuck isn't a horror movie because it doesn't contain any elements of the supernatural--I would've thought his definition of the genre to be less narrow-minded than that. A pretty good indication of how off-the-mark the transfer proper is, an HD trailer for the film rounds out the disc. Originally published: October 26, 2008.
85 minutes; R; 1.78:1 (1080p/VC-1); English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English DD 5.1; English SDH, Spanish; BD-25; Region-free; Image