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Crossing Over
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Borderline Idiocy"
1 stars

From a moviegoing perspective, the first couple of months of 2009 have pretty much gone according the schedule--there have been a couple of really good movies (“Coraline” and “Taken”), a couple that were slightly better than expected (“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” and the first 30 minutes or so of “Paul Blart, Mall Cop,” which I promise I will get around to completing at some point) and a whole lot of brain-dead and virtually unwatchable junk along the lines of “New in Town,” “Fanboys,” “He’s Just Not That Into You, “Friday the 13th” and the “un”-holy trio “The Unholy,” “The Uninvited” and “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.” However, as bad as those latter titles were, they were, for the most part, ordinary, run-of-the-mill bad movies that no right-thinking viewer went into with any real expectations. In other words, we haven’t yet had an example of a movie that should have been good, based on the promise of the subject matter and the talent gathered on either side of the camera, but which has turned out to be so indescribably awful that all you can do is just sit there and wonder what in the hell the people responsible for it were thinking when they decided that it was both ready to film and ready to release. That streak has finally ended with the appearance of “Crossing Over,” a sanctimonious sack of stupid that wants to do for the subject of immigration reform what “Crash” did for the subject of racism in America and tragically accomplishes just that--it takes a hot-button topic and a lot of good actors and lets them down with a screenplay and direction that is so clueless, hackneyed and unsubtle that there is a very good chance that future audiences may regard it in the same way that we know look at things like “Reefer Madness” or those old social conditioning films they used to show in junior high.

Like “Crash,” not to mention other forbearers such as “Traffic” and “Babel,” “Crossing Over approaches its subject with a multiple-storyline format designed to both provide viewers with the chance to look at the situation from a number of different viewpoints and to provide a number of actors with parts that might earn them Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. The main thread features Harrison Ford as world-weary immigration officer Max Brogan and as the film opens, he is leading yet another raid on yet another sweatshop that will send yet another group of illegal aliens back to Mexico. Among this group is Mireya (Alice Braga), a young mother who begs him to retrieve her son and bring him to her before she gets sent back. At first, Max refuses to help so as not to seem soft in front of his associates but after an anxious night of the soul (represented here by a brief shot of him sitting alone in front of his television), he decides to do the right thing and retrieves the kid. By this time, alas, Mireya has already been sent back and so he takes it upon himself to return the child to Mexico himself but when he arrives, he learns from her family that she has already begun the perilous journey back to the U.S. in order to get the kid back herself. While trying to track Mireya down, Max finds himself involved in a murder case involving his Iranian partner, Hamid (Cliff Curtis), whose sister (Melody Khaze), a black sheep to the family thanks to her love of cigarettes, skimpy clothing and not-so-clandestine affairs, is found murdered along with her married lover only days before her super-rich father’s naturalization ceremony.

Meanwhile (and there are a lot of meanwhiles to deal with here), struggling Australian actress Claire (Alice Eve) has just discovered that she is going to be forced to leave the country when she literally runs into Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), an immigration official who happens to be just the person who can provide her with the green card that she so desires as long as she agrees to be his sex slave for the next two months. Cole, by the way, is married to Denise (Ashley Judd), a self-righteous immigration defense lawyer who is trying to convince her husband to adopt a young African orphan whose case she has been handling. Her latest case involves Taslima (Summer Bishil), a 15-year-old Muslim girl who makes the mistake of delivering a class essay about 9/11 suggesting that the terrorists responsible were not simply murderous cowards but people who had a point of view that they could not get across in any other way--instead of simply being admonished by her teacher for ripping off Bill Maher, Homeland Security gets called in and, based on the most specious evidence available (“Did you see her room--it is so austere”), she is deemed a terrorist threat and is ordered back to Bangladesh, a land that she hasn’t seen since she was three, in a move that will inevitably split up her family of illegal parents and U.S.-born younger siblings. Meanwhile (see what I mean?), Claire’s boyfriend, Gavin (Jim Sturgess), is an atheist Brit who is struggling to pass himself off as a devout Jew in order to acquire his residency and a Korean teenager (Justin Chon), whose entire family is about to become naturalized, finds himself embroiled in his own mini-version of “Gran Torino” (save for the semi-avuncular racist next-door neighbor) when some gang-banger friends try to force him into a life of crime.

“Crossing Over” was written and directed by Wayne Kramer, whose previous films included the Mob drama “The Cooler” and the wild thriller “Running Scared.” Based on the strength of those two projects (both of which you should see right now if you haven’t), I went into this one assuming that he would approach it with either the brilliantly detailed subtlety of the former or the jaw-dropping audaciousness of the latter. Unfortunately, the results are so catastrophically bumbled that it seems impossible that Kramer would possess enough taste or intelligence to ever watch those films, let alone make them. For starters, the screenplay is a complete mess that ambitiously wants to cover all aspects of the immigration issue but doesn’t really have anything of note to say about the subject, other than to say that it sucks to be an illegal immigrant. Even if it did have something of value to say, it is likely that it would wind up going unnoticed because the script is so overloaded with plot lines that the amount of cross-cutting between the various strands ensures that none of them play out long enough and in enough detail to make any sort of impact. At a certain point, it seems as if Kramer himself decided that the sheer effort of trying to keep all of his dramatic plates spinning was simply too much and he pretty much cuts them all abruptly short in the last half-hour in order to concentrate his energies on Max solving the murder of his partner’s sister. This might not have been a bad move except for the fact that the killer is telegraphed so early in the proceedings that the final reels feel like a lot of wheel-spinning until the doozy of a climax, in which Max elicits a confession, complete with naked flashbacks of the victim being gunned down, in the middle of a mass naturalization ceremony with “The Star-Spangled Banner” being sung in the background for good measure in the kind of wildly over-the-top moment that suggests what the late, great Sam Fuller (no slouch when it came to politically-charged nuttiness) might have done with the screenplay if it had fallen into his hands. (My guess--junk everything but that scene and the equally wacko bit in which the Iranian cop and the Korean would-be thug cross paths during a convenience store robbery gone horribly wrong.)

As “Crossing Over” goes on and one, you keep waiting for something to come along that will help justify its existence--if not a real sense of conviction regarding the subject of immigration, then at least some tough and knowing dialogue here, a few flashily directed scenes there and a couple of memorable performances from the highly talented cast--but that something never occurs. The screenplay consists of depictions of the immigration debate that wouldn’t pass muster in a high-school civics class laced together with dialogue so ludicrous that it inspires bad laughs at the worst possible times. Outside of aforementioned scenes in the convenience store and at the naturalization ceremony, the direction is equally ham-handed--there is no absolutely no natural sense of flow between the various storylines and it is all put together with the finesse of a TV show that has been running for at least two seasons past its shelf date. Even the actors are unable to bring much to the proceedings--Ford (who presumably took this role because he famously passed on the part in “Traffic” that went to Michael Douglas and didn’t want to risk making the same mistake twice) is dull as dishwater throughout, Judd is amazingly shrill, Liotta seems to be doing his Ray Liotta impression and the lesser-known players (aside from the frequently naked Alice Eve) are barely on screen long enough to make much of an impression. You want to know how grim the performances are? Jim Sturgess, the amazingly smug and unlikable actor who helped make “Across the Universe” and “21” into the insufferable monstrosities that they were, actually turns in the closest thing to a likable performance here as the would-be Jew trying to scam his way through a religious test in order to make it in this country.

Part of the reason for the messiness of “Crossing Over” no doubt stems from the circumstances of its production history, which has been troubled to say the least. Originally shot in the spring of 2007, Kramer had a test screening that didn’t go over too well and so producers Harvey Weinstein (yep, the same guy who “saved” “Fanboys” last month) and Frank Marshall decided to cut together their own version. Kramer agreed to accept this version despite his contractual rights but at that point, Weinstein apparently showed it to Harrison Ford, who disliked that version and allegedly insisted on doing his own cut of the film, a version that was disliked by everyone involved. Then, at some point, Sean Penn, who played a small role (which I understand was a border guard who encountered the Alice Braga character on her journey back to America), decided that he had serious objections with one of the subplots (which was presumably in the screenplay that Penn should have read before signing on) and, after much back-and-forth wrangling, it was decided that the best way to settle the issue was to cut his character out entirely. This is the kind of Hollywood nonsense that could one day inspire a fascinating book or documentary if it was possible to get all the principal players to come clean about what really happened behind the scenes. Unfortunately, it hasn’t inspired a very good movie in and of itself. “Crossing Over” is a film that does about as much for the serious subject of immigration reform as Chico Marx once did and with almost as many laughs.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17053&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/13/09 00:50:47
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User Comments

6/27/10 Tim Am I the only one who liked this film? Superb acting and wonderful direction. 5 stars
3/21/09 Jack I hated The Cooler & Running Scared. This guys just keeps getting worse. 1 stars
3/01/09 Aesop After this and the last horrible Indy 4 sequel, if Harrison Ford dies now he's so screwed. 1 stars
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  27-Feb-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Jun-2009


  DVD: 09-Jun-2009

Directed by
  Wayne Kramer

Written by
  Wayne Kramer

  Harrison Ford
  Sean Penn
  Ray Liotta
  Ashley Judd
  Summer Bishil
  Cliff Curtis
  Alice Braga
  Alice Eve
  Jim Sturgess

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