Crash T-Bones Its Audience With Misery and Bad Vibrations

Bleak. This is a film that relentlessly delivers screen moment after screen moment of mean-spiritedness, racism, degradation, sexual harassment, corruption, pain, organizational incompetence and stone-walling, criminal scapegoating, interpersonal disconnectedness, frustration, selfishness, intolerance, hopelessness, international slave trading, personal humiliation, fear, senseless violence, premature death, and murder. The only relief is that sometimes what the writers choose to make happen is only slightly less horrible than the absolute worst possibility.

© 2005 Lions Gate Films, All Rights Reserved

The film opens with police at the scene of an unexplained murder, then flashes back to show events during the 24 hours leading up to the crime. Structurally, the flashback adds nothing to the story telling. But in this abstract expression of life in L.A. in the year 2005, the murder scene provides a set of "bookends" that mask the arbitrary nature of the film's starting and ending points (I won't say "beginning" and "conclusion").

© 2005 Lions Gate Films, All Rights Reserved

Don Cheadle - who helped bring this project to the screen - is Graham, a police detective called to the murder scene. Between the film's opening and closing sequences, he slouches through a whirlwind of human "collisions" involving the Los Angeles District Attorney and his wife, the D.A.'s political fixer, various police officers, one officer's sickly old father, the old father's social worker, a couple whose marriage is shaken apart by the same cop's racist behavior, a Persian family operating a store, Graham's partner and dissatisfied lover, Graham's senile mother and his drug-addict brother, a pair of car jackers who discuss society and philosophy (a la Pulp Fiction) between episodes of pointing large guns in innocent people's faces, an inhuman chop shop owner, and the locksmith who does work for several of them.

© 2005 Lions Gate Films, All Rights Reserved

Each story line is carefully choreographed to drive the audience into a corral of predictable emotions, from where we can be herded conveniently to the next contrived set up. Sometimes the situation is made to end terribly, sometimes less terribly. In one or two of the situations, characters are given lines meant to indicate their lives might take a turn for the better, but they're not very plausible. The "complexities" of which the filmmakers are so proud arise only because a character who is two-dimensionally portrayed as racist in one set up is then two-dimensionally portrayed as heroic in another, and two-dimensionally sensitive in a third. But there is no complexity in what the audience experiences. It's very much like a "fun house", with only one path through a series of pre-arranged rooms which, if you could see them in the light of day or at your own pace or from a different angle, would seem more contrived than scary.

© 2005 Lions Gate Films, All Rights Reserved

The cast includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenze Tate, and Michael Pena, with a walk-on by Tony Danza. The acting, direction, camera work, design, and costumes are quite satisfying. The writing is thoroughly professional, with lots of story threads neatly tied up and ingeniously interconnected. But all this talent is used merely to deliver sewage that's primarily suited to generating a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. If that's what you like, you'll love this film.

© 2005 Lions Gate Films, All Rights Reserved

If I were a sociologist, I could probably draw all kinds of conclusions about how films with this sensibility and thematic thrust were symptomatic of Hollywood's self-referential dissociation from honest human emotion and it's penchant for selling tickets by portraying the rawest possible events calculated to generate extremes of cheap emotion. But instead, I'll just say that Crash unreels like a collection of searing and painful situations that could each form the core of an interesting story exploring the human condition. Stripped of all context and devoid of any balance with real life, however, the events in this film lead to a head on collision with human misery and an overall bad trip.

Opening May 6, 2005
Paul Haggis - Writer, Producer, Director
Bobby Moresco - Co-Writer, Producer

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