There must be something about the sprawling girth of Los Angeles that makes directors prone to these bloated, multi-narrative pronouncements about the city of dreams and the national unconscious. Just as Paul Haggis's Crash presented L.A. as a podium for heavy-handed statements about racism, Wayne Kramer sees it as a network of immigration patterns. Both seem to be after the kind of generational tableaux Robert Altman made of the city in Short Cuts — a comparison that does Altman a disservice — but Haggis and now Kramer have an unfortunate habit their predecessor lacked. Crossing Over compulsively repeats its thesis — that American immigration policy is dehumanizing — until, like Crash, it becomes a spectacle of liberal Hollywood back-patting.
Harrison Ford (looking positively exhausted after his latest neo-colonial Indy expedition) plays our jaded hero, reluctant Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Max. His partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis) offers the middle-class Middle-Eastern version of the American Immigration Dream, while the pretty Mexican woman (Alice Braga) Max busts in a sweatshop raid gives us the working-class Latino perspective. Summer Bishil plays a Bangladeshi teen suspected of being a terrorist, while two pretty young Commonwealth travelers (Brit Jim Sturgess and Aussie Alice Eve) take divergent and demeaning paths to legal status. Had Kramer honed in on fewer plots in greater detail, Crossing Over might have achieved something more than mediocrity. Sadly, with few scenes lasting two minutes before crossing over to another story, what was surely conceived as a multi-narrative epic comes off as a collage of sound-bites.
In this ADD-riddled storytelling landscape, acting becomes subordinated to arching aerial shots of secret immigration facilities and the emotional button-pushing of families and lives being pulled apart. Ray Liotta provides the only performance worth mentioning, reveling in the part of a completely slimy and pathetic immigration official. His evolution from a paternalistic, blackmailing manipulator into a tragicomic figure of vulnerable self-loathing delights without condescending. Ashley Judd's performance as his morally upright immigration lawyer wife is less memorable, although the fact that she's essentially playing Angelina Jolie should tip viewers off to the "progressive Hollywood" narcissism that's at work here. Crossing Over doesn't offer solutions to, or even a substantial engagement with, America's archaic immigration policies. As long as we feel bad — just like the empathetic stars on-screen — someone (maybe Angelina Jolie) will do something about it.