Crossing Over gets so wrapped up in its quest for topical resonance that it forgets some of the basic rules of narrative filmmaking. Writer-director Wayne Kramer shortchanges each of the storylines he interweaves into the loose limbed narrative by keeping them consistently focused on pounding home his one basic theme: it’s hard out there for an immigrant to the United States. Every moment of the film underscores that point.

This offers little room for character development and even less for dramatic nuance. Significant portions of the movie unfold in the over the top style of a low grade soap opera, intent on providing big dramatic payoffs whatever the cost. Throughout the picture’s 112 minutes Kramer’s schema remains the same.

Start with a helicopter shot panning high above the freeways, downtown skyline and/or industrial areas of Los Angeles, set to a pounding orchestral score. Cut to characters played by Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Cliff Curtis or another of the many fine actors being wasted here. Develop a scene that in some way stresses the challenges immigrants face and very often features dialogue spelling things out in that vein. Lather, rinse and repeat.

The repetitive, tenuously constructed storylines have been crammed with some significant contrivances. Crossing Over suggests immigration officers consider the notoriously unreliable IMDb suitable evidence, implies that Curtis would have time to deliver a soul searing monologue while thwarting a convenience store hold up gone wrong and that a beautiful Australian actress played by Alice Eve would have to resort to sleeping with Liotta’s applications adjudicator for a green card. Things converge for an obscenely jingoistic climax spurred by a plot thread onetime cast member Sean Penn reportedly found offensive enough to get himself cut out of the film.

Criticizing Crash has become a popular sport since its shocking Best Picture win at the 2006 Academy Awards. Yet that multistory L.A. set immigration drama looks like a masterpiece of tasteful restraint when compared to the histrionics of Crossing Over. Though I consider Running Scared, his previous film, one of the worst movies ever made I will admit that Kramer is a talented filmmaker. He knows how to make scenes move and bring rhythm to a movie. He does not, however, grasp of the need for subtlety in telling a story or the importance of finding some sort of realistic grounding for one that so clearly aims to comment on current events.

Grade: D+

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