Image // R // $35.98 // October 14, 2008
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 29, 2008
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
Well, Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea)
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has had better days. Stuck opens with Tom getting the boot from a flophouse roach motel and darting out with an armful of clothes so he can look kinda-sorta presentable at a job interview. Tom twiddles his thumbs for hours at this faceless employment agency only to be told he's not in the system and has to mail in a long, rambling form a second time, and without a cent to his name or a place to stay, he shuffles off to a bench in the park to spend the night. Nope, that won't work: a cop taps him on the foot with a nightstick and tells Tom he either has to head to a mission on the other end of town or be dragged off to the pokey. Tom breathes a heavy sigh, grabs the shopping cart he's shoved his clothing into, and starts heading down to Hope Street. It's a hassle, yeah, but it's not as much a pain as being plowed into by some boxy sedan by a zonked-out wigette.

Yup, Brandi (Mena Suvari) was just trying to celebrate scoring a promotion -- well, probably landing one, at least -- at the nursing home where she's been toiling away as a nursing assistant. She's not a bad person, but Brandi's hopped up on X and is more than a little tipsy, and when Tom trudges across an intersection while she's got a green light and is busy fumbling with a cell phone...wham.

It kind of goes back to what I've been saying all along: women can't drive.

So anyway, Tom's bloodied, battered body is lodged halfway through her windshield. Brandi's too freaked out to call an ambulance, she's spooked when she tries to drop the guy off at the hospital, so she does the next best thing: parks her car -- half-dead hobo and all -- in her garage and screws her thug-lite boyfriend. Tom may be skewered, barely able to move, and bleeding like a stuck pig, but he's not dead quite yet. Brandi keeps dropping in and saying that help's on the way, but she's really just trying to cover her own ass, so it's up to him to find a way out. Escape seems just out of arm's reach -- a cell phone just a few short feet away, a good-natured neighbor kid who hears him hammering away at the horn -- but what's left of Tom remains trapped in the garage. Since he's hellbent on staying alive and Brandi doesn't want to sabotage her promotion anymore than she already has by calling for help, she starts to take increasingly desperate measures to get rid of this problem once and for all...

I dug the hell out of Stuck. Sharply written, really well directed, shouldered by a cast capable of juggling that nasty balance of dark comedy, claustrophobic thrills, and gruesome splatter...director Stuart Gordon and writer John Strysik really knocked it out of the park. The characterizations and performances are remarkably brilliant. It's particularly impressive how Stephen Rea -- even though his body is shattered,
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skewered, and carved apart from head to toe -- never really seems like a victim. He's not Michael Myers being pelted by a couple hundred thousand rounds by some heavily-armed backwater militia, but no matter how much abuse he takes, he somehow musters the strength to keep going. Rea really makes Stuck what it is. Since he has so little room to maneuever, the performance is drawn mostly by small gestures, facial tics, and wet grunts. He works wonderfully within those claustrophobically tight confines, so effectively conveying the pain and torture he's enduring that I found myself squirming and cringing on my couch for the better part of an hour straight, and this is from someone who's wasted most of his life devouring gruesome, graphic horror flicks.

Brandi isn't evil. She was just faced with a split-second decision and went the wrong way, and rather than try to steer things back on the right track, she stuck with that mistake. She's as self-interested as...well, everyone else in the movie. No character who gets any real screen time is in it for anyone but themselves. Part of what's so fascinating about Brandi is that she's shown as going so far and above the call of duty at the nursing home where her job consists of...well, caring for people...but when it crosses into her personal life and she's responsible for someone being in so much agony, she panics.

Gordon and Strysik resist the temptation to pepper the movie with filler subplots or unnecessary characters. Any other movie would've shoehorned in an investigation, but Stuck never really veers away from Brandi or Tom for more than a couple of minutes; one of these two characters is on-screen for virtually every last frame of the movie. Not bogged down by any dead weight and barely running eighty minutes minus the end credits, the pacing is nimble during the extended setup and screams along once all hell breaks loose. Gordon's dark, depraved sense of humor hasn't faded over time, and Stuck kept me cackling pretty steadily without ever seeming as if it's mugging for laughs. I mean, a cornrowed Mena Suvari grabbing a frying pan and getting in a catfight with some random nekkid broad, Brandi's boyfriend mistaking her tortured screams as just really getting into the whole sex thing, the way Brandi naively tries to blot up the blood gushing out of the schlub in her windshield by grabbing a fistful of Kleenex,! Some of the violence scores some pretty unsettling laughs too, although so much of the fun comes from the complete and total surprise of it all that I have to be annoyingly vague. Still, a Pomeranian and an exposed bone...a car door in the climax...a, um, thing with a writing utensil that'll tide you over till The Dark Knight hits Blu-ray...I kept cracking up and cringing at the same time.

Stuck may be slinking in under the radar, but Stuart Gordon has shaped a sharp, compelling, clever thriller that doesn't fit comfortably into any of the usual boxes, and it's one of my favorite random discoveries on Blu-ray over the past few months. Highly Recommended.

Stuart Gordon
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mentions in his audio commentary that he was aiming for more of a rough-hewn documentary look for Stuck...a predominately cold, detached palette, trying to make it look as if the movie had been shot with natural this Blu-ray disc doesn't exactly get the nod for reference quality visuals. Some stretches look fantastic, particularly the clarity and rich detail throughout the more brightly lit moments in the nursing home that open the movie. The bulk of Stuck is softer than average, though, black levels aren't all that robust, and the weight of film grain can vary from shot to shot. Stuck looks pretty good in high definition, and the really spectacular make-up effects hold up well to the scrutiny that goes along with a 1080p presentation, but this is by design not the sort of Blu-ray disc you'll grab off the shelf to show off your home theater rig.

This Blu-ray disc opens up the mattes slightly to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and Stuck's high-def visuals have been encoded with AVC.

Stuck sports a pretty solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The low-end packs a wallop, courtesy of the thumpin' bass in the hip-hop scattered throughout the movie, the cracks of gunshots, and...y'know, the whole hit-and-run thing. The crash also takes advantage of all of the other speakers at this lossless soundtrack's fingertips, and there's a consistently strong sense of ambiance throughout.

A traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also tags along for the ride, and subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish have been included as well.

Director Stuart Gordon, writer John Strysik, and star Mena Suvari pile into the recording booth for Stuck's audio commentary. It's a really energetic track without any hiccups or lulls in the chatter, covering how Rea's character took his name from Buddhist lore, why exactly the movie is set in Providence, Rhode Island, Gordon noting that the head of production at Paramount had never heard of True Grit, and how Stuck sadly marked the final film role of Mamet mainstay Lionel Mark Smith. There's a very large amount of discussion about the self-serving motivations of these characters,
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the real-life incident that inspired the skeleton of its story, and a nixed subplot involving Bardo's wife on a frantic search that wound up shaving a half hour off the script's length. It's a solid commentary and worth setting aside eighty minutes and change to give a listen.

Stuck's pile of featurettes are pretty uneven. "Driving Forces" (8 min.) and "Ripped from the Headlines" (17 min.) -- both of which recycle a lot of the same footage from the same interviews -- are pretty much interchangable promotional pieces. Most of their runtimes are spent recapping the plot and belting out one long clip from the movie after another. "Ripped from the Headlines" sets itself apart by touching more in-depth about the actual case that inspired the movie, but it still plays too much like an electronic press kit to recommend setting aside the time to watch.

The best of the featurettes is "The Gory Details", a run through the mindset and execution behind the movie's extensive makeup effects by Mike Measimer (Angel; Babylon 5). Measimer tackles the different stages of the appliances and make-up plastered throughout Bardo's battered, bloodied body, the research that went into shaping them, and the headaches of maintaining blood continuity throughout a nearly month-long shoot. Also included are peeks at storyboards and test footage for quite a few effects.

Stuck played at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival earlier this year, and Strysik and Stephen Rea made the rounds promoting the movie as well participating in a Q&A after one screening. That Q&A session and a couple rounds of interviews have been included on this Blu-ray disc, running right at 25 minutes in total. Some of the topics include the more political interpretations of the film in Europe, how drafts of the script evolved over time, and some of the different locations considered for the shoot. Because the interviews tend to be more promotional and retread ground already covered elsewhere on this disc, viewers pressed for time might find it worth skipping straight to the Q&A. I guess one kind of funny thing is that Rea says that he hadn't worked with Suvari before but hopes that Stuck is the first of many pairings, while in the commentary, Suvari notes how they were both part of the cast of The Muskateer a few years earlier. Oops!

The only high definition extra is Stuck's theatrical trailer.

For whatever reason, all of these extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray release. The DVD doesn't bother with any bells and whistles at all.

The Final Word
Sporting a cacklingly dark sense of humor and the sort of abuse that can make even a seasoned gorehound like myself wince and squirm, Stuart Gordon's Stuck is a clever thriller that's really worth discovering on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

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