Film Review: Crossing Over

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 this country 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, polemical aspects of "Crash." Lightning seems unlikely to strike twice; boxoffice prospects are limited.

Rather than taking the low-key, realistic approach that Tom McCarthy brought to "The Visitor," Kramer has opted for an overheated style that veers toward soap opera. For example, when Ford's Max Brogan leads a raid of a dress factory, he arrests a woman who pleads with him to look after her helpless young son. A teenager from Bangladesh arouses the suspicion of the authorities when she presents a school paper defending the 9/11 hijackers. 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 in order 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, within this hash of lurid confrontations, there are a few effective scenes and strong performances. Ford plays his world-weary role with dignity and compassion, and there's an uncharacteristically understated -- and well written -- scene when he meets the shrewd young sister of his Iranian partner, and sparks fly. Curtis, who has given a series of exceptional performances in such films as "Once Were Warriors" and "Whale Rider," captures the anguish of a man caught between professional and familial loyalty. Summer Bishil, star of Alan Ball's "Towelhead," is affecting as the Muslim girl whose rash actions tear her family apart.

Ashley Judd fares less well as an earnest immigration attorney who happens to be married to the lecherous Liotta. And it's hard to know what to make of the bizarre comic subplot that features Jim Sturgess (from "Across the Universe" and "21") as a secular Jewish immigrant trying to pass himself off as an Orthodox rabbinical student.

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.