not a single film nominated for this year's best picture oscar had the excitement of wayne kramer's 2006 running scared. it was a thrilling, beautifully acted consideration of parenthood, adolescent terror and warped immigrant ambition, all in the framework of a chase movie--genre usually ignored at award time. this year's oscars reflected how movie taste has become high-minded, humorless and unresponsive to such kinetic style as kramer displayed. so maybe there's oscar potential in kramer's less flamboyant new film crossing over. this consciously "serious" reconsideration of running scared's family and immigrant issues is set in a post-9/11, pacific rim environment similar to the 2005 oscar-winner crash. harrison ford plays immigration customs enforcement officer max brogan whose conscience works overtime. he can't forget the faces of the illegals he arrests, but his partner hamid baraheri (cliff curtis, usually cast as stereotype arab villains), displays more stressful sympathies, being the dutiful son of a desperately pro-american iranian immigrant.
like the great 1950s urban action dramas confronting social and psychological issues (on dangerous ground, the harder they fall, the big heat), kramer features the complications of men whose jobs test their personal lives as well as their social commitments. that's why crossing over's subplots include alice (claire shepard) an australian actress desperate to obtain a work permit from cole (ray liotta), a government bureaucrat; gavin (jim sturgess), a transplanted jewish british musician; taslima (summer bishil), a pakistani high school student who stares-down post-9/11 xenophobia; and denise (ashley judd), a social worker who becomes attached to an african orphan. their problems inevitably intersect, defining a society undergoing contentious change. but this focus on uneasy spiritual and political transformation runs into thematic banality. although more than a set of patchwork, crash-like homilies, crossing over is almost as didactic. kramer holds back the urgency that made running scared feel tense (as well as a mite trashy). it's easy to get the impression he's preaching when taslima outrages her classmates by praising the twin towers kamikazes; kramer emphasizes her outsider's pain but ignores her offense. when the overly sentimentalized gavin performs with a band called lincoln's bedroom, his opportunistic, solipsistic indie pop, "don't mistake the enemy," also seems didactic. these characters symbolize the land of opportunity's appeal to the whole world-and those who also resent it. yet kramer proposes a simple-minded benevolence toward the problem of contemporary americanism; he often ends with an empathic dissolve on a confused person's face. this trendiness leans toward the blame-taking, post-9/11 clichés featured in changing lanes, house of sand and fog, babel, the visitor, towelhead and gran torino. at his best, kramer intensifies the mess of people's criss-crossed motivations. his good scenes include alice and cole's apologies; a second-generation son reminding his father "you don't stand in line in this country;" brogan's almost sexual affection for a couple of victimized women, ("i've never been invited to a shunning before," he tells hamid's sister); and an audacious moment of crisis when hamid faces the worst side of america. here, kramer stops preaching and makes cinema. dispensing with brogan's sentimentality, kramer gives hamid (and actor cliff curtis) a tough, virtuous display like paul walker and vera farmiga had in running scared. having betrayed himself and his family, hamid recalls a lost ideal and expresses a hard and profound immigrant's vision. he seeks spiritual common ground during a moment of violence; it roils both thematic and narrative concerns into a climax sure to make you sit up in your seat. that's how good non-pious moviemaking-and oscar-snubbing-can be.
crossing over directed by wayne kramer running time: 140 min.