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Television Review

As a series, 'Crash' flails to be daring

Dennis Hopper plays a record producer in ''Crash,'' based on the Oscar-winning movie. Dennis Hopper plays a record producer in ''Crash,'' based on the Oscar-winning movie. (starz via associated press)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 17, 2008
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What can you say about a TV series that opens with Dennis Hopper spewing Bukowski-esque poetry at his own penis in the back of a limousine underneath the Hollywood sign? That it's not a very easy ride?

"Crash," based on the Oscar-winning movie, is a show that's madly in love with its own daring and importance. This drama is Hollywood all done up as a street thug - accosting you, threatening to punch you in the gut, shouting ugly words and nudging you to think "Oh how edgy" and "Oh how powerful." Long before the end of the long premiere, tonight at 10 on Starz, you'll tire of the writers' redundant efforts to make big statements about America, Racism, Sexism, Suppression, and Other Psycho-social Phenomena That Reek of Capital Letters.

The 2004 movie, directed and co-written by Paul Haggis, suffered from a similarly self-inflated aura. The film knocked Academy Award voters over the head with its own momentousness all the way to a best-picture Oscar. But the film lasted a few hours, and some of the actors - notably Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle - gave us human beings where the script suggested only cut-outs. "Crash" the series, which includes Haggis and Cheadle among its producers, will bang its drum across 13 episodes, and not one of the actors successfully transforms his or her character into more than a concept.

Not even Hopper, who's starting to come across like a pull-string doll muttering naughty bluster in monotone. These days, his anarchic, psychopathic badness is on automatic pilot, and about as shocking as a little kid blowing a raspberry.

The show is structured like the movie, in that it is comprised of separate story lines that ultimately collide. Television has been playing with this Altmanesque format in recent years, with the fractured but overlapping narratives of "Six Degrees," "Heroes," and "Lost." The up side: An uber-story reveals itself slowly and dramatically, as more and more of the pieces of the puzzle lock together. The down side: We might not care about any of the subplots, if they don't get enough screen time to open up and breathe. With "Crash," the down side dominates, as none of the stories or characters is remotely interesting.

Hopper is Ben Cendars, a wealthy record producer whose new limo driver is a black man from South Central LA named Anthony (Jocko Sims). Ben insults and badgers Anthony; racial discomfort ensues. And it ensues over and over again, in case you've missed the point. Sexual inappropriateness also ensues repeatedly, in a plot that finds a cop (Ross McCall) incessantly coming on to a woman (Moran Atias) whose car he bashed into. There's a Korean EMT, a corrupt police lieutenant, a brow-beaten husband, and a whole mess of barely hidden rage.

The cable movie channel Starz ought to have a breakthrough original series like AMC has had with "Mad Men." Why not? And Starz's choice of "Crash" as its first drama makes sense on paper - the show is based on a movie, so there's a movie-channel connection, and it's provocative and risque, announcing right off that Starz is looking for FX cred and not USA fluffiness. But "Crash" tries too hard, and fails hard too.

Crash

Starring: Dennis Hopper, D.B. Sweeney, Jocko Sims, Ross McCall

On: Starz

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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