By Jon Korn

Inconsistent and almost terminally quirky, “Stuck,” from veteran horror helmer Stuart Gordon, nevertheless musters more than enough charm to sustain itself. Much of the help comes from strong lead performances by Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea, a counter-intuitive pairing that proves quite successful.

The film has little prospect to be a big hit in theatres, but should find a measure of success among cult fans who like a helping of pitch-black comedy to go with their gore.

The odd plot, concerning a woman who tries to cover up her involvement in a hit-and-run despite having a man lodged in her windshield, comes from an oft-emailed actual event. That said, Stuck seems to have treated its source material in a manner similar to Fargo, another film based on a true story. Namely, the events in question are less a script to be strictly followed than a jumping-off point for the filmmakers. Indeed, while the film starts off as seemingly standard, morality-tale fare, it takes an unexpected, yet welcome, turn into gonzo horror. (No surprise there, as Director Gordon, who gets an additional Story by credit here, also directed the seminal Re-Animator.)

While the filmmaking is about what one would expect, the script, by John Strysik, never quite brings its many parts together. As a result, despite its relatively brief running time, Stuck feels more like a series of short, slightly interrelated sketches than a cohesive story. There are some very clever lines, but there are just as many moments that ring false, especially once the film begins switching up its tone at a furious pace.

As mentioned above, the cast is certainly responsible for a lot of what is good here. Despite the tricky material, Suvari and Rea both attack the wildly varying segments of the film with aplomb, bouncing from melodrama to slapstick, with several long stops in slasher flick. Rea struggles with his American accent, but he seems to have had a blast playing a character that goes from predictable and almost stereotypical to gleefully whacked. Also impressive is Russell Hornsby, who brings a identifiable vulnerability and keen sense of humor to his turn as Suvaris drug-dealing paramour.

In the beginning of the film, everything is looking up for Brandi (Suvari), a nursing assistant at an retirement home who has just learned that she is up for a promotion. Brandi goes out to celebrate with her boyfriend Rashid (Hornsby) and downs a few too many drinks, not to mention a hit of ecstasy, before she makes the unwise decision to drive herself home. As she weaves her way across the deserted streets, Brandi runs into Tom, a hard-luck case who has lost his family, his job and his home, in that order. That is, she literally runs into him, lodging Tom in her windshield in a scene that, with what should rightly be considered foreshadowing, alternates quickly between being hideous and hysterical. Overwhelmed, Brandi continues on home, Tom still ahem stuck in her car.

From hereon out, the film follows Brandis spectacularly misguided efforts to get out of the terrible mess she has found herself in. Despite his thug life braggadocio, Rashid proves decidedly ill equipped to help, especially once the couple discovers that Tom is still alive. For his part, Toms struggle to free himself becomes emblematic of his recent difficulties; a lone man fighting against forces that he cannot control. This symbolism might seem almost touching if we werent treated to the ghastly sight of Tom trying to remove himself from a windshield wiper, which occurs in almost incredible detail and at some length.

Ultimately, Brandis selfishness does not go unpunished and the film delivers a satisfyingly raucous finale that would have seemed impossible a scant ninety minutes earlier. One can argue about whether Director Gordon was able to find the humanity in this terrible story (for my money, he never quite does), but there is no question that both he and Strysik wrung out every last bit of dark humor.

Despite the recognizable names and high-concept plot, the filmmaking itself is gleefully low-budget. The cinematography is effective but subdued, portraying the washed-out life of its lower-middle class subjects. It is not crazy to think that a sizable portion of the filmmakers cash went towards the effects, which are startlingly lifelike and add a lot to both the humor and the gross-out factor of the film.

There was a dolefully earnest film to be made from this subject mater, one that unstintingly focused on the consuming desperation of its characters lives. Gordon has done us all a great service by ignoring the path to prestige, instead delivering a hilariously twisted meditation on the same high-minded ideas.

Rated R. Running time: 94 MIN.

Brandi – Mena Suvari
Tom – Stephen Rea
Rashid – Russell Hornsby

Produced by Robert Katz, Jay Firestone, Ken Gord, Stuart Gordon.
Executive Producers Sam Grana, John F.S. Laing, Tim McGrath, Andrew Arno
Written by John Strysik,
Directed and Story by Stuart Gordon
Camera: Denis Maloney
Editor: Andy Horvich
Music: Bobby Johnson
Production Designer: Craig Lathrop
Set Decorator: Alan MacLeod
Costume Designers: Carol Cutshall and Chris O'Neil
Sound: Georges Hannan
Special Effects Supervisor: Laird McMurray
Visual Effects Supervisor: Jon Campfens