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Crash   C-

Lions Gate Films

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Haggis
Writer: Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Michael Peña.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Writer-director Paul Haggis bookends Crash with fender benders. One Chinese woman rear-ends a Hispanic police officer (Jennifer Esposito), and a black insurance officer (Loretta Devine) gets hit by a different Chinese senior citizen. I single out each character's race because the sole point of Crash is to overanalyze the staggering amounts of racial tension and blatant stereotyping that happens on a daily basis in a cesspool version of modern-day Los Angeles.

Crash also suggests how mediocre Million Dollar Baby could have been without Clint Eastwood sitting in the director's chair. Haggis wrote the Baby script that Clint guided to an Oscar, but he opts to direct his own words here. And while the gifted scribe manages to argue how surface differences can breed ignorance in a close-knit community, some of his directorial choices reflect a lack of faith in the audience and ultimately dumb down his potentially challenging material.

What happens between the film's opening and closing car accidents more closely resembles a train wreck. Haggis interlocks multiple stories that all are rooted in hasty judgment. A veteran LAPD officer (Matt Dillon) assumes the black couple he pulls over is guilty of a crime. A Persian shopkeeper (Shaun Toub) mistakenly believes everyone who enters his store aims to rob him.

In reality, some people do see the world through these racial filters. In Crash, every single character wears race-colored glasses, so the script capsizes in uneven doses of bigoted bile. Just when we start to make actual human progress, Haggis swings his story back to a basic racial stereotype (black people steal, rich people hate minorities), and the whole picture has to reset itself.

The occasional performer elevates the rote material. Rap star Ludacris impresses as a quick-thinking criminal, and Terrence Howard is powerful playing a television producer intimidated by his alcoholic wife (Thandie Newton) and the local law enforcement. Don Cheadle excels in a poorly constructed part. For every memorable turn, though, there are as many characters that could be removed from the equation without upsetting the cart (Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser contribute nothing on both story and acting levels).

If there's a unifying factor in Crash, it's that these despicable people have deeper family issues waiting for them at home. Dillon's cop contends with his ailing father, who can't get proper health care. Cheadle's lonely mother begs him to find his wayward brother before he falls in with the wrong crowd. Haggis would have found more sympathetic avenues to explore in those relationships. Instead, he gets lost sifting through a festering melting pot that only exists in some people's narrow minds.

Review published 04.29.2005.

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