Stuck (2017)


You never know when someone is going to break out into a song on the New York City subway.

(2017) Musical (VisionGiancarlo Esposito, Amy Madigan, Ashanti, Arden Cho, Omar Chaparro, Gerard Canonico, Timothy Young, Reyna de Courcy, Heather Hodder, Sienna Luna, Belle Smith, Shannon Lewis, Jennifer Knox, Dennis Launcella, Mel Johnson Jr. Phil Oddo, Anna Kuchma, Anita Welch, Natia Dune, Alisha Nagasheth, Rachael Ma, Sam Carrell. Directed by Michael Berry

 

It is no secret that for the most part, we have lost our ability to connect. We are so trapped in our cell phones and our social media, squatting in our little corner of the world that we’ve made for ourselves that we have forgotten that we’re actually living in that world with other people. Therefore, we go out into the world, our noses buried in our iPhones and scared to bejeebus to make eye contact with anybody less we be actually forced to have a conversation. As Paul McCartney observed more than 40 years ago, by playing it cool we’re making the world a little colder.

In this movie based on an off-Broadway musical, six New Yorkers find themselves on a subway car that abruptly comes to a stop. The harried conductor (Johnson) explains that there’s a police action on the platform ahead and they are waiting for the all-clear signal to continue on their way. He locks the doors to the car and continues on his way, never to be seen again in the film.

That leaves six strangers, nervously eyeing one another (without actually making eye contact) except for one guy – Lloyd (Esposito), an outgoing sort who carries with him all his worldlies in a trash can on wheels. He stands up and offers up a coffee cup for spare change as he delivers a brief Shakespearean soliloquy – or part of one anyway.

The others are a human resources department diversity poster of riders, all with their own problems; Caleb (Canonico) is an aspiring comic book artist who has been sketching dancer Alicia (Cho) who is none too pleased about having a dweeby stalker, and for good reason as we find out later. Ramon (Chaparro) is a hard-working immigrant working three jobs to give his beloved daughter (Luna) an opportunity at a better life – and he’s dang stressed because he’s sure that being late to the job that he’s on his way to will get him fired and as it is his family is right on the edge of not making it.

Then there’s Eve (Ashanti) who is wrestling with a very personal choice that has an odd connection to her own past, while Sue (Madigan) is a music professor who has recently been struck by an unthinkable tragedy that has left her struggling to find any good in the universe. As the subway riders actually begin to talk, they find themselves opening up about the things that are bothering them, while also discussing hot button topics like immigration, abortion, health care and sexual assault. This being a musical, the characters are apt to break into song at any given moment.

There is a certain amount of urban grit to the film, or at least what passes for it; we film reviewers in Orlando have little experience with true New York urban grit. It seems fairly genuine to me, but some critics who are actual New Yorkers say no. The music is decent enough; I enjoyed it while I was listening to it but now two days later I can’t for the life of me remember a single song. That could be because my mind was on Hurricane Dorian as it passes through the area today. We Floridians have our own kind of grit.

While none of the main performers are especially known for singing with the exception of Ashanti who is a bona fide pop star, the entire cast actually acquits themselves well in that department. Esposito in particular stands out; he really is a national treasure in the sense that he makes every film he’s a part of better and some of his performances are legendary. Madigan, a veteran actress who has been nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy, and won a Golden Globe for her work in the TV movie Roe vs. Wade. Few of her fans remember that back in the 70s she was in a band called Jelly (and modeled for Playboy wearing nothing but jelly to promote her band). Her song is one of the most haunting moments of the movie, largely due to Madigan’s performance.

There are some moments of comedy, some of them awkward but by and large things are fairly serious. Now, truth be told, I’m not a big fan of modern musicals; they all sound alike to me and feel like they were written by committee to please focus groups more than to make some sort of comment on the human condition. Like modern pop music, stage musicals feel over-produced and under-insightful but I actually enjoyed this, so take that for what it’s worth. I suspect those who love stage musicals will be more likely to seek this out but for those who are ambivalent I can tell you that I found myself enjoying it as flawed as it is. Keep in mind that both Esposito and Madigan are reliable performers in any milieu, even a musical.

REASONS TO SEE: Captures a gritty urban feel.
REASONS TO AVOID: The material tends to be a bit heavy-handed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some fairly adult themes and a depiction of a sexual assault.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Because New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) was reluctant to let the crew film in an actual subway car, a near-exact replica of a modern subway car was built in the Pfizer Building in Brooklyn and all the subway train sequences were shot there.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews: Metacritic: 36/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rent
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Always Be My Maybe

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Stuck


Mena Suvari in Stuck

Mena Suvari suddenly realizes the best part of her career may be behind her.

(THINKfilm) Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Russell Hornsby, Rukiya Bernard, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Lionel Mark Smith, Wayne Robson. Directed by Stuart Gordon

We love the catharsis of a good horror movie because it allows us to exorcise our inner demons safely. The reason we have inner demons, however, is because real life can be far more horrific than any movie.

Brandi Boski (Suvari) is a sweet-natured nursing assistant at a care facility for the elderly. She is so compassionate that the sometimes hostile residents, particularly the increasingly demented Mr. Binckley (Robson) want her to tend to them exclusively. That hasn’t escaped the notice of the shrewish facility director Ms. Peterson (Purdy-Gordon), who tells Brandi she is up for a promotion.

On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Bardo (Rea), a man who is hitting bottom. Laid off from his job as a project manager, he has been unable to find work and is being evicted from his apartment. He is trying to get unemployment benefits at a faceless agency but his application has been lost. Rather than trying to help, the faceless drones force the penniless Bardo to pay for their mistake by filling out the forms all over again and waiting for yet another appointment. With the kind of long-suffering sigh that actor Rea is a master at, he walks off to the local park to find a bench to sleep on, although even that is denied him by a pitiless cop who orders him to hoof it to the mission across town – on incongruously named Hope Street.

Meanwhile, Brandi has been partying with a Tanya (Bernard), a sympathetic co-worker who has been the target of Ms. Peterson’s wrath and her drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Hornsby) who has been plying both women with alcohol and X. Even though she’s reeeeeally intoxicated, Brandi elects to drive home – after all, she has to work the next day.

As Bardo trudges towards Hope Street pushing a shopping cart left by a sympathetic homeless man named Sam (Smith) that carries his few belongings, Brandi is on her cell phone calling her boyfriend…you know, the one she just left at the bar. You know the two are going to meet and when they do, it will be with a bang. The distracted, inebriated Brandi hits Bardo head on and he plunges through the windshield.

As you might guess from a white girl wearing cornrows, she panics and after getting spooked trying to drop off her unwanted passenger – who is still alive, miraculously – at the hospital, drives home and parks her bloody car in the garage. When her boyfriend arrives, she chooses not to tell him more than that she’d been in an accident and spends the night having sex with him over a loud rap soundtrack.

As the next day arrives Brandi thinks that by letting Bardo expire naturally, she can then convince her boyfriend to get rid of the body after dark but since Bardo stubbornly refuses to die, she must consider other options, some far more dark than the one she’s already chosen.

This is based on an actual incident, in which a Texas woman named Chante Jawan Mallard struck a homeless man with her car and drove him to her garage and left him to die, although coroners would later say that he could have been saved had she just called for help. Her victim actually died within an hour or two of the impact, while Bardo survives for a great deal longer despite horrific injuries.

Director Gordon is responsible for some excellent cult movies dating back to the 1980s. Stylistically, he is known for a very dark sense of humor – think of the term “black comedy” and multiply it times a thousand here. For example, while Bardo suffers in agony in the garage, a local dog finds its way in and decides to chow down on a bone – one of Bardo’s, sticking out from his leg. It’s the kind of thing you laugh at then wince at then wonder how sick you are to have found it funny.

Suvari, who has come a long way from the American Pie movies, does a reasonable job in Stuck. She plays a character that has a veneer of compassion but it deserts her when her comfort is threatened. She’s not evil per se, but self-centered to the point of psychosis. I thought the movie would have worked a little bit better if Brandi had been a little more likable, but perhaps it might not have been possible to paint the character that way without making her actions completely unbelievable so I guess it will have to do. As it stands other than Bardo and Sam, nearly everyone in the movie is completely self-absorbed.

Rea, so good in movies like The Crying Game and V for Vendetta has the hangdog look that befits the character. Given the fact that he spends most of the movie impaled on the windscreen with little to do but moan and rage at the heavens, he makes this movie work. While he isn’t like a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, he does take a licking and keep on ticking leading to a conclusion that is extraordinarily bloody but nonetheless satisfying.

This is not a laugh out loud funny joke-fest but it could be classified as a comedy. It doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat but it could be counted as a thriller. There are no major scares but it certainly might be found in the horror section of your home video emporium. The fact is, it fulfills the criteria for each genre quite nicely and manages to be quite a good little movie that escaped under the radar. It is certainly worth a rental.

WHY RENT THIS: Gordon is a splendid director who knows a thing or two about ratcheting up the tension level. A not so thinly veiled commentary on the state of the American people – self-absorbed to the point of psychosis.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Suvari’s character is so loathsome that it is difficult for the audience to get behind her, which might have elevated the film a bit had we been able to.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, some fairly horrific, much nudity and sex and some drug usage. As you can see, not terribly appropriate for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Gordon appears in a cameo as a resident carrying a bag of groceries who gets yelled at by Rashid’s girlfriend.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: On the Blu-Ray edition, there’s a feature that touches somewhat in-depth on the incident that inspired the movie. Note that on the DVD edition, there are no extras whatsoever, not even a commentary track.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Final Day of Six Days of Darkness