The filmmaker Stuart Gordon, whose new movie "Stuck" opens Friday, is surely the only director in history with both a debut stage production of a David Mamet play and a Fangoria magazine Chainsaw Award to his credit. Though Mr. Gordon's previous feature-length outing, 2005's "Edmond," was written by Mr. Mamet, "Stuck" was inspired by headlines, not the two men's longtime association. The film is loosely based upon the notorious 2001 Chante Mallard case, in which a Texas woman driving under the influence struck a homeless man named Gregory Biggs. The impact embedded Biggs in Mallard's windshield and he died two hours later inside Mallard's garage, where she abandoned him rather than seeking help.
By expanding Biggs's relatively swift but no less horrendous two-hour ordeal into a two-day struggle — the outcome of which remains in doubt until the very end — Mr. Gordon and his co-writer, John Strysik, have created an oddball black comedy that vacillates between the two poles of Mr. Mamet's frosty social satire and the kind of blood-dripping factitious nihilism that wears out the remote controls of Fangoria's readers.
The first 20 minutes leading up to the catastrophic chance meeting between Brandi (Mena Suvari) and Tom (Stephen Rea) breathlessly details the miserable world the two Rhode Islanders unknowingly share, at least for the time being. Brandi is hectored by her humorless and passive-aggressive boss at a nursing home, where she is a rising star. Tom, in turn, is scorned by a compassionless receptionist at an employment agency that appears ill-equipped to stall his downward spiral into the gutter. Both are praised by older men who see something in them others don't. Brandi is the favorite of an incontinent patient. Tom receives a pep talk and a grocery cart of his own from a homeless man who knows the ways of harsh life on the economic fringe.
"It's your choice," nearly everyone Tom encounters tells him en route to his mordant "meet cute" with Brandi. But their sudden and violent introduction, as Brandi returns home after a night of excess in celebration of a possible promotion, seems predestined. Mr. Gordon dramatizes the unfortunate physics that unite the two in a slow-motion montage. As Brandi's windshield shattered into enormous pieces (a phenomenon unlikely in any car built since the '50s), I was momentarily reminded of one of those shots of a horse plunging through a plate glass window in a 1960s Western bank robbery scene.
"Anyone can do anything to anyone and get away with it," Rashid (Russell Hornsby), Brandi's erstwhile boyfriend, reassures her when she tells him she's been in a hit-and-run. But Rashid doesn't yet know that Brandi brought the person she hit home with her. While Tom struggles to escape first the windshield and then the garage before he bleeds to death, Brandi and Rashid switch roles. The would-be gangster begins to panic, while Brandi, fueled by superhuman reserves of self-delusion, cultivates a homicidal level of resentment against Tom for trashing her car and quite possibly her life.
Filled from fade-in to fade-out with stammered denials, clockwork exchanges of close-ups, and desperate "wait, the person you're mocking to me is right behind you"-type sitcom scenarios, "Stuck" at times resembles a kind of Coen brothers-lite remake of Stephen King's "Misery." But Ms. Suvari's admirable, dogged investment in her character keeps the film from becoming merely a snarky hate letter to Generation X callousness and self-absorption. "Stuck" is never 100% funny, nor 100% insightful, nor 100% suspenseful, nor even 100% disgusting (though its depiction of Tom's bone-crunching efforts to extract himself from his predicament comes close), so, not surprisingly, it generates and sustains only a fractional level of appeal.