“Crash,” Paul Haggis‘ 2004 Oscar-winning film about race relations in Los Angeles, was so good it was bound to inspire imitators.
“Crossing Over” also intertwines loosely related personal stories set against a single social background — in this case, illegal immigration. It even takes place in the same locale. Alas, the formula doesn’t work here. Whereas “Crash” was a brilliant and moving combination of the personal and the political, “Crossing Over” mostly comes off as a mediocre message movie.
Harrison Ford, going blue-collar, plays Max, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer who has a hard time doing his job — he’s got a soft spot for women in distress. During a factory raid, Max is inclined to let Mireya (Alice Braga), with her pretty, pleading eyes, go, but she is discovered. Before she’s shipped back to Mexico, the single mother begs Max to help her young son.
Max’s partner, Hamid (Cliff Curtis), comes from an immigrant family himself. His Iranian father is about to become a citizen, but the family hasn’t embraced American customs fully — they’re embarrassed by Hamid’s provocatively dressed, sexually active sister Zahra (Melody Khazae). When she and her married boyfriend turn up dead in a hotel room, Max wonders if the seemingly mournful Hamid is responsible.
A rather different young girl is Taslima (Summer Bishil). The devout Muslim came from Bangladesh as a child but still doesn’t fit in here. When the 15-year-old gives a speech about the motivations of the Sept. 11 hijackers — “They found themselves without a voice,” but on that date “their voices were heard” — she finds herself defending her paper not to the principal, but an FBI agent.
The teenage Korean played by Justin Chon has his own problems when an imported gang convinces him that the American dream can only be obtained at gunpoint.
Visible minorities aren’t the only ones chasing that dream. Twentysomething couple Gavin (Jim Sturgess) and Claire (Alice Eve) are from England and Australia, trying to make it in the music and movie industries. Green cards are hard to come by for struggling artists. Gavin, an atheist Jew, gets a job at a Hebrew day school and tries to get a religious worker visa. It’s the film’s only lighthearted plot, while Claire’s is the most viscerally dark.
An auto accident with an unsavory immigration paper-pusher (made more creepy by Ray Liotta‘s overdone plastic surgery), leads to blackmail — she’s forced to become his sex slave to stay in the country. His wife, an immigration lawyer played with earnestness by Ashley Judd, alienates him by wanting to adopt an African girl.
These stories might seem too coincidental and even preposterous. It wouldn’t have mattered had they been well-told.
With a couple exceptions, we never really get to know these people as people — they’re mere stand-ins for the filmmaker’s ideas. (It’s impossible, though, to ignore the ridiculous assertion that an American high school student would have no idea a paper practically defending the Sept. 11 attackers would meet with rather vociferous opposition from her classmates. Or the idea that an almost-falling-down-drunk man would be a perfect shot.)
Mr. Ford’s Max is the closest thing to a real character. The actor’s so good that his face can tell a story the script doesn’t. Mr. Sturgess is a highlight, too, as a man who just might find redemption — and a green card — with a lie.
The strongest story, though, is that of his girlfriend, played by the talented Miss Eve. Its plot might seem the most ridiculous, but it also provides the most harrowing and moving images in a movie that doesn’t have nearly enough of them, given its subject.
TITLE: “Crossing Over”
RATING: R (pervasive language, some strong violence and sexuality/nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Wayne Kramer
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
WEB SITE: www.weinsteinco.com/#/film/crossingover
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS