Haven't we been here before? The inbred mutant offspring of Crash and Babel, writer/director Wayne Kramer's Crossing Over treats the subject of illegal immigrants coming to (and from) Los Angeles with the same vulgarity that Kramer brought to his 2006 children-in-peril thriller Running Scared, this time (barely) concealed under a paper-thin plaster of Oscar-worthy self-importance.
Like the fictional New Jersey town that served as the backdrop for Kramer's previous film, Angel City is, for the filmmaker, yet another disenchanted urban forest filled with innocent maidens (Alice Eve as an Australian actress trying to make it in Hollywood), big, bad wolves (Ray Liotta as the INS honcho who offers the Aussie a green card in exchange for daily buttfucking privileges), and world-weary armored knights (Harrison Ford as the Immigration and Customs agent who never met a pretty illegal he didn't want to save). Similarly traveling along their own bread-crumb trails are a baker's dozen of black-, brown-, and yellow-skinned unfortunates on hand mainly to be crushed by the might of La Migra or squished under the steel-capped boot of post-9/11 racial profiling — which may nonetheless be preferable to getting rammed up the ass by Mr. Liotta's cock.
Crossing Over begins earnestly enough as an old-fashioned exercise in Stanley Kramerish consciousness-raising, with Ford wearing existential angst on his sleeve as a callous colleague reprimands him: "Jesus Christ, Brogan! Everything is a goddamned humanitarian crisis with you!" From there, solemn overhead shots of freeways and skyscrapers serve as the Scotch tape crudely holding together the movie's myriad story lines. Lest we forget that white people suffer too, an atheistic British singer/songwriter (Jim Sturgess) masquerades as an observant Jew to obtain his much-coveted "status." Meanwhile, a Muslim teen (Summer Bishil) gives a class report in defense of the 9/11 hijackers, then appears surprised to discover Homeland Security agents ransacking her bedroom. And an about-to-be-naturalized Korean youth (Justin Chon) resists indoctrination into the very street gang one was certain Clint Eastwood had already run out of town.
But by the time we arrive at the serendipitous meet-cute-by-car-wreck of Liotta's green-card gatekeeper and Eve's Kidman/Watts aspirant (who, by the way, happens to be the girlfriend of the counterfeit Semite), it's clear that we're firmly in the hands of the lurid Kramer we know if don't necessarily love. Wouldn't she rather steal away with him for an afternoon quickie, he proposes, rather than end up in a San Pedro detention center where "some mama Latina makes you her bitch for a couple of nights"? Well, now that you put it that way...
Never does Kramer encounter a cultural stereotype he can't repurpose. For most of Crossing Over, Ford's Iranian partner (played in a triumph of affirmative-action casting by New Zealander Cliff Curtis) glowers so contemptuously at his cleavage-bearing sister that when the girl turns up with a bullet in her head, the only surprise is that the movie thinks it's a mystery. Meanwhile, when Ford travels south of the border in search of the deported sweatshop worker (Alice Braga) who's captured his heart, I could all but swear that Kramer and cinematographer James Whitaker slapped a brown filter on the camera, the better to emphasize the developing world's pervasive filth.
And so it goes, with Kramer — who doesn't really seem to like people very much — failing to muster even the superficial empathy the makers of the similarly programmatic The Visitor and Rendition showed toward their own cardboard-cutout imperiled illegals. Eventually, all points converge on a finale draped in patriotic imagery employed for maximum irony, as Kramer haphazardly cross-cuts between a naturalization ceremony and a deportation — not exactly The Godfather's baptism by gunfire, in case you had any doubts.
There might be no more to say were it not for the fact that Crossing Over once counted that paragon of liberal virtue, Sean Penn, among its ensemble, before either poor test screenings or Penn's own request to be cut out of the film — depending on which rumor mill you believe — saw him excised. Reportedly, Penn's story line involved a border patrol agent who crashes his car and subsequently "crosses over" — not from one country to another but from this world to the next. Minus him, Kramer's film at least manages to clock in just under the two-hour mark. Insh'Allah for that.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.