'Crossing Over'

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The surprising success of "Crash" seems to have encouraged other filmmakers who yearn to make socially conscious ensemble movies. Whereas "Crash" wove together stories that focused on racial tensions in Los Angeles, "Crossing Over" brings the same kaleidoscopic technique to the hot-button issue of immigration.

Characters include immigration officers (Harrison Ford and Cliff Curtis) and a medley of immigrants from Iran, Korea, Mexico and Bangladesh. Writer-director Wayne Kramer, who attracted attention with "The Cooler" a few years ago, came to the U.S. from South Africa, so his interest in the subject is genuine. But the film plays like a garish melodrama that reproduces the most ham-fisted, polemic aspects of "Crash." Lightning is unlikely to strike twice; boxoffice prospects are limited.

Kramer has opted for an overheated style that veers toward soap opera. For example, when Ford's Max Brogan arrests a woman at a dress factory, she pleads with him to look after her helpless young son. And in one of the loopier episodes, an Australian actress (Alice Eve) desperate for her green card happens to ram her car into a bureaucrat (Ray Liotta) responsible for processing applications. He offers to expedite her papers in exchange for sexual favors, and she joins him for soulless trysts at a seedy motel.

The film is rife with coincidences, and it frequently strains credulity. Kramer contrives the unlikely encounters to tug at the audience's heartstrings, and sometimes he succeeds in forcing a tear or two, but the emotions aren't honestly earned.

Still, there are a few effective scenes and strong performances within this hash of lurid confrontations. Ford plays his world-weary role with dignity and compassion, and Curtis captures the anguish of a man caught between professional and familial loyalty. Summer Bishil, star of Alan Ball's "Towelhead," is affecting as a Muslim girl whose rash actions tear her family apart.

The film makes good use of some unfamiliar Los Angeles locations, and the editing by Arthur Coburn keeps the interludes flowing briskly. But the slick craftsmanship can't hide the fact that most of these mini-melodramas are unadulterated hokum. (partialdiff)
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