Crashing Symbols: The dream of immigration becomes a nightmare in 'Crossing Over'
Holy multicultural day, Batman! Immigration attorney Ashley Judd wears a necklace with a gold pendant of Africa. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Harrison Ford juggles the drama of his Iranian work partner (Cliff Curtis) with his penchant for helping the Mexicans he should just bust in undocumented-worker raids. And at a Jewish day school, earnest Jim Sturgess strums his guitar and mewls in Hebrew like he's still in that kids-discover-the-Beatles musical. Oh, if only. This isn't "Across the Universe." It's "Crossing Over" - or as we call it at my desk, "Crash: Special Victims Unit."
While Paul Haggis's surprise Oscar winner "Crash" was about the scourge of race in Los Angeles, Wayne Kramer's "Crossing Over" is about the nightmare of becoming an American citizen - in Los Angeles. Both rely on a boatload of interlaced story lines for maximum melodramatic effect. The rambunctious, badly acted Korean gang here wouldn't be out of place in "Gran Torino," and the bloody convenience store robbery wouldn't be out of place in any movie about gangs. Haggis and Kramer like their headline news extra trashy.
So say goodbye to wonky discourse about policy reform and deportation enforcement. And say hello to Taslima Jahangir (a very good Summer Bishil), a Muslim high-school student who gives a presentation expressing sympathy with the 9/11 terrorists. She catches the FBI's attention. So do her visits to jihadist chat rooms. She's interested in all voices being heard. But never mind; a special agent (Jacqueline Obradors) wants Taslima and her family on the first plane back to Bangladesh. Her lawyer (Judd) fights, but frankly the lawyer's heart seems preoccupied (alas, she has no pendant for Bangladesh?).
When Kramer wants to move between story lines, he throws in a montage of aerial shots of the interstate. He uses this device often enough for you to wonder why he didn't just call the movie "Traffic." But the congestion in "Crossing Over" is human. When a green-card-seeking Australian actress (Alice Eve) crashes her car, by a miracle of screenwriting the other driver (Ray Liotta) works in the naturalization office, takes one look at her spilled head shots, and offers a deal. She needs legal status. He needs a mistress. After their first tryst, she demonstrates that she can do the patented crouching shower cry. Sweetie, you've already gotten the part!
Will his wife find out? Will her English boyfriend (Sturgess), an aspiring rock star and lapsed Jew who's also here illegally? While every illegal here has a pound of flesh to pay, the women do most of the suffering. Meanwhile, all the saviors tend to be movie stars. "It's always a humanitarian crisis with you," someone says to Ford, who can't take his eyes off his partner's sister (Melody Khazae), an assimilated party girl whose miniskirts and Hispanic lover have brought shame on her seemingly respectable Iranian family.
Kramer made the 2003 William H. Macy-Alec Baldwin casino thriller "The Cooler" and 2006's lurid "Running Scared." "Crossing Over" continues his specialty: sizzling sleaze. But even more than before, he seems allergic to discretion. Why be subtle when you can end a grisly shoot-out with a teary lecture about the joys of naturalization? (It's about "the worthiness of the journey," say one of the shooters, "when you're standing in your suit and tie, you understand the sublime promise of this moment.") Not much later Kramer stages one of the worst confession sequences in the history of movies, complete with a giant American flag and a gratuitous belting of the National
If "Crossing Over" is less self-congratulatory than "Crash" about confronting its designated problem, it's just as inept at dramatizing the complex ways that problem unites and divides us. Here every cause is something you can wear around your neck.