"Crossing Over" will make you weep, but not for the reasons its makers intended. Forced, heavy-handed and overdone, it's a pretend serious film that offers crass manipulation in the place where honesty is supposed to be.
Written, directed and co-produced by Wayne Kramer, "Crossing Over" has designs on dealing seriously with the problems of immigration, on showing how the desperation to get legal in this country leads to a damaged system that corrupts almost everything it touches.
But instead of anything commendable, "Crossing Over" stands in a long line of exploitation melodramas that just want to get a rise out of audiences, a film that uses its nominal issue as an excuse to put thuggish violence, lecherous nudity and crude profanity on screen. And that makes the film sound a lot more entertaining than it is.
That's because, following in the footsteps of "Crash" and "Babel," "Crossing Over" is also in the grip of a terrible earnestness, the conviction that its conventional dialogue and contrived scenarios are actually telling us something worth knowing. As if.
Like those two films, "Crossing Over" is a multi-strand story that moves from vignette to vignette, introducing numerous characters who star in their own mini-dramas, each one faker and more obvious than the last, as well as occasionally interacting with the folks in other episodes. The film is set in Los Angeles, and its use of aerial shots to move from neighborhood to neighborhood is so widespread it threatens to cause airsickness.
Harrison Ford is "Crossing Over's" biggest star, and it's his Max Brogan we meet first. A lonely agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE for short) whose only companions are the animals on the Nature Channel, Brogan has been on the job so long he's gone native. "Everything is a humanitarian crisis to you," an exasperated co-worker snaps at him, and soon enough Brogan becomes concerned about the small boy left behind when his factory worker mother (Alice Braga) is nabbed in an ICE raid.
Ford gives "Crossing Over's" most effective performance, and Max Brogan's story is not as bad as the others, but it's downhill from there. Brogan's ICE partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis) is originally from Iran, but his American-born sister Zahra (Melody Khazae) doesn't want to act like women from the old country, and that causes all kinds of family tensions.
Ditto for 15-year-old Taslima (Summer Bishil), whose passionate classroom tirade pleading for understanding for the Sept. 11 bombers leads to problems for her and her parents, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Also causing family difficulties is a young Korean boy (Justin Chon) who hangs with local gangbangers.
Wait, we're not done. Ashley Judd plays a compassionate immigration defense attorney whose husband, Cole (Ray Liotta), works the other side of the street, adjudicating green card applications for the government.
Another couple of sorts is wannabe Brit rocker Gavin (Jim Sturgess) and his sometime girlfriend, aspiring Aussie actress Claire (Alice Eve), who'll do anything (and I mean anything) to get a green card. One of the film's more maddening bits of business is its old-school sexist insistence that women who are desperate enough to allow themselves to be horribly sexually exploited have commited a greater sin and need to be punished much more severely than men who blithely lie. What a world.
This is pretty much business as usual for "Crossing Over," which has a weakness for bludgeoning emotional responses out of viewers, as well as a tendency to sound more promising than it is because of the caliber of the name actors involved.
Maybe those performers didn't focus on the exploitative nature of the film's persistent sex and violence, maybe they ignored the banality of the proceedings and were seduced by the possibility of being in a film that said something worthwhile about an important national issue. "Crossing Over," a project that diminishes everything it touches, is nowhere near that film.
MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, some strong violence and sexuality/nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: In general release