Coming to America

Far from a fresh look at immigration, ‘Crossing Over,’ is little more than a poor impersonation of ‘Crash.’

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Sigh. These days, few movies that make it to the multiplex are actually about something. Few bother to explore ideas, big or small, reflecting modern day life in a way that enlightens and entertains. (And no, He’s Just Not That Into You does not count.)

So at first blush, it’s tempting to applaud Crossing Over just for being brave enough to explore the complexities of the immigration debate. But while the movie deserves a nod for taking on a topic that has so far mostly eluded lawmakers in Washington, Crossing Over is, to borrow a tag from our new attorney general, essentially an exercise in cowardice. It backs down from bringing anything new and discomfiting to the discussion—a discussion that we’ve been having in earnest since Sept. 11.

The kind of treatment that Crossing Over is after has been done before, and done better, in films from Traffic to Babel to the Oscar-winning (and some say overrated) Crash.

Starring Harrison Ford as the immigration cop with a heart of gold, it’s got similarly interlocking story lines, spread across a wide swath of Southern California, with folks of all colors insulting each other in colorfully non-P.C. ways, just like in Crash. Except this time, everyone’s crashing up against each other in the quest for the almighty green card, or even better, U.S. citizenship.

Crossing Over takes pains to expose the ways that the system fails, especially in the case of a Nigerian orphan whose mother died of AIDS. And it shows how not all “illegal aliens” come wrapped in brown skin. Even—gasp! —pretty blond, English-speaking Aussie actresses have documentation problems.  

But pulsing underneath Crossing Over’s do-gooder exterior is a cynical heart, one that’s not above trotting out tired, old stereotypes (the poor single mother who flees Mexico to find a better life for her kid) and manipulating them for maximum exploitative effect. (Right before a young Muslim woman is murdered in an honor killing, the filmmakers are sure to let us see her in the altogether, going at it with her married—and non-Muslim lover.) Even the aforementioned Aussie actress, who, in her quest to get those papers and become the next Naomi Watts/Nicole Kidman, starts sleeping with the bad immigration guy (Ray Liotta). Multiple shots of her bare breasts and bottom are apparently essential for plot development, the better to demonstrate her inner angst.