Hollywood mash-up

Crash is fresh, if somewhat exhausting

GRIDLOCK Thandie Newton clings to Matt Dillon’s Officer Ryan in one of the many intersections in the twisty plot of <i>Crash</i>.

GRIDLOCK Thandie Newton clings to Matt Dillon’s Officer Ryan in one of the many intersections in the twisty plot of Crash.

Starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Ryan Philippe and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Directed by Paul Haggis. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

There’s lots going on in this film, with an abundance of interesting actors and an intriguingly offbeat set of characters for them to play against a gritty Los Angeles backdrop. And at least some of it might give you a feeling of fresh, contemporary urgency as well.

Ironically intertwined lives and non-stop racial and ethnic animosity are the chief stock in trade in Crash—sometimes, however, to the point of redundancy and near-exhaustion. It never stops being interesting, but a little too much of the narrative deck has been a little too neatly stacked.

The action includes a carjacking, several auto accidents, an incident of police harassment, a pair of quarrelling couples, assorted police business and on-the-job problems, a shopkeeper afflicted by repeated break-ins, an attempted carjacking that morphs into something like road rage, a hitchhiking episode that devolves into lethal violence, a spectacular rescue under excessively ironic circumstances, etc., etc.

The serendipitous intersection of various individual lives becomes part of the quasi-poetic point in all this, but racial hostilities and blind spots turn up in these encounters with a regularity and uniformity that mostly nullifies any insights writer-director Paul Haggis may have hoped to impart.

Big chunks of it play rather nicely as riveting sequences in a multi-character police thriller. But while Crash will not be not content with routine-thriller status, it is still stuck with what emerges as a merely formulaic approach to complexity of character and event. At times, unfortunately, it’s only the simple-minded kind of “complexity” that you get when you pair a virulently racist cop with a passionately tolerant one and then proceed to show that the one has his good side and the other is not immune to prejudicial behavior after all.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of good moments for the actors, especially Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Ryan Philippe in the key police roles, and—in a more darkly comic and somewhat picaresque vein—Larenz Tate and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the carjackers. The major couples (Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard) fare less well, though Howard too somehow has his moments—as the most elaborately victimized of the characters.