[Screen It]

(2009) (Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta) (R)

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Drama: Various immigration officials must contend with illegal immigrants and their quest and/or desire to stay in the U.S.
Max Brogan (HARISON FORD) and Hamid Baraheri (CLIFF CURTIS) are U.S. Immigrations agents and partners who raid various locales in the greater Los Angeles area rounding up illegal immigrants. Max is world-weary and has a reputation for going soft on some he apprehends, such as Mireya Sanchez (ALICE BRAGA) who begs for him to retrieve her young son, Juan (ARAMIS KNIGHT), at daycare, before she's deported.

After his initial reluctance to get involved, he finds and returns the boy to his Mexican grandparents, and then sets out to find and reunite Mireya with her boy. Hamid, on the other hand, is a bit more hard-nosed, despite being a naturalized immigrant himself, especially toward his sister, Zahra (MELODY KHAZAE), who he and his brother, Farid (MERIK TADROS), consider an embarrassment to their family. He must also eventually contend with Yong Kim (JUSTIN CHON), whose pending naturalization ceremony might just be derailed by his somewhat hesitant involvement with a gang of thugs who are trying to indoctrinate him into their criminal ways.

Gavin Kossef (JIM STURGESS) and Claire Shepard (ALICE EVE) are also facing deportation, and have some sort of romantic past together. He's a musician and atheistic Jew from Britain who's trying to fake being a religious music teacher so that he can stay in the U.S., while she's an Australia actress whose papers have expired, leaving her in dire straights.

Things look up for her -- in an unsavory way -- when she runs into Cole Frankel (RAY LIOTTA), a green card adjudicator. Noting her beauty, he proposes that he'll expedite her paperwork, complete with her exaggerated, front of the line status, in exchange for two months of sexual rendezvous. That's despite him being married to Denise (ASHLEY JUDD), a defense attorney for such immigrants who's trying to help find a mother for a young Nigerian orphan, and then gets involved in the case of Taslima Jahangir (SUMMER BISHIL).

She's a 15-year-old high school student whose recent report and viewpoint on the 9/11 terrorists have not only outraged her classmates and teacher, but also drawn the attention of the FBI and specifically Special Agent Phadkar (JACQUELINE OBRADORS) who wants to deport her and her parents, Rokeya (NAILA AZAD) and Munshi (SHELLEY MALIL). As the various stories play out, the plight of the illegal immigrants as well as those who both hunt them down and try to help them comes to a head.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Despite what its title might otherwise suggest, "Crossing Over" is not the name of the remake of "Poltergeist," the fun 1982 film where the creepy little psychic lady first told Carol Anne to go into the light, and then later recants that command. Instead, it's about a different kind of boundary, still invisible for the most part (save for some fences, delineating rivers, etc.), but often similarly featuring related life and death issues.

Yes, we're talking about national borders and, in particular, those crossed over by illegal immigrants into the United States. While this hot button issue has pretty much taken the backseat to the more pressing economic meltdown here and abroad, it's still a topic that gets people riled up on both sides, so if anything, the film can't be accused of not being timely.

It will, however, draw inevitable comparisons to another film set in Los Angeles featuring an ethnically diverse, ensemble cast featured in separate but intertwining stories revolving around a central theme. That, of course, was racism in 2005's "Crash," the surprise Oscar winner for Best Picture that year. Good but overrated (in my opinion), that pic suffered from too many characters and storylines and the fact that, against astronomical odds, they kept running and colliding into each other.

The same occurs here -- courtesy of writer/director Wayne Kramer -- but it feels even more contrived, preachy and ultimately less interesting, as a whole, than its similarly themed and constructed predecessor. The problems are discernible right from the get-go when an immigration official points out to another (played by Harrison Ford in what's obviously a sympathetic role but feels off) that the latter is too compassionate toward those he's supposed to be rounding up. It's a bit of exposition, but it's so clumsily handled that even a student filmmaker might have excised it after seeing how it really played out to both the eye and ear.

We're then introduced to a number of other characters and their similar but initially unrelated storylines. Some are more interesting than others, such as the one featuring Summer Bishil as a Muslim teen who gets into trouble -- apparently channeling Bill Maher from his infamous "Politically Incorrect" moment -- for stating her opinion on the 9/11 terrorists. Since she's not a U.S. citizen, that leads to a quick witch-hunt of sorts that ultimately affects not only her, but also her family.

Alas, despite the potential and a decent performance by Bishil, the handling of the material is both too heavy-handed (in the form of Jacqueline Obradors' character's hardliner mentality) and shortchanged, what Kramer with having to continually shift from one subplot to the next. As a result, this particular one only receives a cursory examination, a fate that befalls its various companion pieces.

For instance, we never really know what makes Ford's character tick. Sure, his partner (Cliff Curtis who spins off into his own subplot that becomes one of the more unbelievable story threads offered) is a naturalized immigrant, and there's some dialogue about the craggy agent's estranged daughter. But he spends most of the film trying to reunite an illegal immigrant (Alice Braga in another stereotypical and barely fleshed out role) with her young son after the former is deported. It's a noble gesture, but the whys are never satisfactorily explored.

For the most part, those or similar problems bedevil the rest of the film. The result is that not only are we pulled out of the proceedings (by the coincidences of characters and subplots intersecting and overlapping, as well as various credibility issues), but we ultimately don't have any reason to care about any of the characters and their individual or collective plights.

Considering the success of films like "Crash" (not to mention the earlier works of the likes of Robert Altman, etc.) and the challenge of trying to balance an ensemble cast and multiple storylines, I can understand what draws filmmakers to such material.

But if it doesn't work, the only thing scary about hearing "They're here..." - at least in this case -- is that we know we'll be in for a long sit. Not horrible (and featuring generally decent performances in underwritten roles) but clearly not as profound or insightful as it obviously intends to be, "Crossing Over" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 26, 2009 / Posted March 13, 2009

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