'Stuck': Crash Test, By Kurt Loder

Director Stuart Gordon does Hitchcock proud.

Brian De Palma spent years trying to replicate (or rip off, your call) the classic effects of Alfred Hitchcock with, shall we say, varying degrees of success. Now, all of a sudden, here comes Stuart Gordon, a man whose career took shape in the dark pit of horror schlock ("Reanimator"), and he's actually pulled it off.

Gordon's new movie, "Stuck," is based on a true story. Late one night in October of 2001, a 25-year-old Texas woman named Chante Mallard, high on ecstasy and several hours' worth of drinks, ran into a homeless man with her car. The man's body went sailing into her windshield, right through the glass, leaving his upper torso hanging down into the vehicle and his lower body out on the hood. Mallard drove home and parked her car in the garage, with the man — 37-year-old Gregory Biggs — still embedded in it, moaning in pain. Mallard ignored him and went into her house, returning periodically to check on his progress in dying and making no attempt to call for medical help. At some point later that morning, she came back to the garage and found Biggs finally dead. She called two male friends, and that night they took Biggs' body away and dumped it in a local park.

A coroner later said that Gregory Biggs' life could have been saved, had he received medical attention. Four months later, a friend of Mallard's, to whom she'd blabbed about the incident, turned her in. In June of 2003, Mallard was quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

This is not a funny story, obviously. But in taking off from it in his movie, Gordon laces the picture with humor in a very Hitchcockian way. Mena Suvari, tricked out in a wildly unattractive cornrow hairstyle, plays Brandi, the Mallard character. This is a woman so self-centered that her biggest fear, after hitting the homeless guy (played with hangdog pathos by Stephen Rea), is that any legal repercussions from the accident might screw up a scheduled job promotion at the old-age home where she works as a nurse's assistant. So, as in the real-life incident, she does nothing. However, in the movie, unlike the real story, Rea's character, a down-and-outer named Tom, refuses to die. Trapped in the dark garage, hanging half in, half out of Brandi's shattered windshield, he confronts her on her every return with his continuing existence, like an undispersible ghost of her guilt. "Why are you doing this to me?" she whines.

While Tom writhes in agony in the garage, Brandi is in the house having sex with her drug-dealer boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby), and trying to inveigle him into helping her dispose of her problem. Rashid's response — a combination of street-thug bravado and wait-a-minute reservations — is amusing at first, and then, as the suspense mounts, absurdly funny. Gordon tightens the screws in ways that Hitchcock himself would surely have appreciated. Brandi has to keep an eye on Tom, but she also has to be at her job — how can she do both? And then there's her cell phone — she can't find it. Suddenly, while stuck at her job, she realizes she left it on the driver's seat in her car — and Gordon cuts away to show us Tom's bloody hand stretching out to grab it. This is a scene so redolent of the Hitchcock manner that you almost expect the master himself to slide in behind the wheel to make his usual cameo appearance.

"Stuck" is a small movie, but it's been cleverly thought-out and executed. It has no message to convey, about homelessness or anything else. Gordon only wants to wring us out. So few films have such simple, solid aims anymore, it's a pleasure just to go along.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Sex and the City" and "Savage Grace," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Stuck."

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