May 06, 2005


Directed by Paul Haggis Starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis' directorial debut Crash is both admirably ambitious and deceptively pandering. No relation to David Cronenberg's eponymous 1996 J.G. Ballard adaptation, Haggis' film is actually another intertwined and encompassing modern L.A. saga à la Short Cuts, Magnolia and Grand Canyon. Although the meditation on race and class in Crash does have an impact, stereotypical caricatures and contrived scenarios fuel its engine. Instead of provoking thought and discussion, it merely provides affirmation to those who subscribe to labels and make assumptions.

Haggis schematically engineers a series of polar-opposite dummies based on race, class, wealth and ethics before systematically driving each into an ambiguous grey zone. The story involves a rich white couple (Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser), a rich black couple (Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard), a pair of carjackers (Larenz Tate and Ludacris), a few honest cops (Don Cheadle and Ryan Phillippe), a crooked cop (Matt Dillon), a Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) and a Persian shop keep (Shaun Toub). All of their lives intersect under improbably coincidental circumstances. The good end up making compromising concessions, while the bad find unlikely redemption.

The articulate and pensive moviespeak in the film's dialogue is as affected as its hokey plots. "Any real cities you walk, you know, you brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass," Cheadle's detective muses. "It's the sense of touch. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other so we can feel something." As if people would casually utter something like that in real-life conversation. Tomboy boxer Maggie notwithstanding, Haggis is maladroit at fleshing out female characters. Bullock's desperate housewife and Newton's harassment victim are peripheral compared to the male protagonists. The director/co-writer's portraits of races other than black and white also fail to make a dent. Who knew Asians were so invisible and insignificant in Los Angeles?

If Thom Andersen ever decides to make a sequel to the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, Crash might be a worthy inclusion. Its night scenes are luminous, if not as memorable as the ones in Mulholland Dr. or Collateral. But if you want to see a real masterpiece about race, class and karmic justice, Up and Down will play again next month at the Ridge.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.