Messy at best, the two-episode premiere suffers from wildly uneven performances, beginning with Dennis Hopper at his manic worst.
To the extent a disclaimer is necessary, count me among the detractors in the great “Crash” debate of 2004, having found the movie heavy-handed even as a stylized rendering of Los Angeles. That’s almost irrelevant, however, in evaluating this shoddy new series, which marks Starz’s maiden push into the sort of edgy production that defines HBO and Showtime. Messy at best, the two-episode premiere suffers from wildly uneven performances, beginning with Dennis Hopper at his manic worst. Given the uneven ride, high gas prices are about the only incentive to stay home and, er, bump into it.As with the movie, the pilot sets up disparate stories that, theoretically, will rotate into overlapping orbits in some way. In series form, that almost amounts to an anthology format, with a gritty vision of L.A. as the de facto central character — the seething melting pot containing these various class and ethnic archetypes. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the portion of the budget devoted to crediting 11 executive or co-executive producers, but the casting is at best indifferent. The most prominent face belongs to Hopper, but he’s in full wigged-out “Apocalypse Now” mode as a big-name music producer (which, not incidentally, is a plot thread in the new season of Showtime’s “Californication,” too. Thanks for nothing, Phil Spector.) Hopper’s producer hires an African-American driver (Jocko Sims) who doesn’t know what to make of the crazy cracker. Beyond that, there’s a lascivious cop (Ross McCall), his beautiful partner (Arlene Tur), the beautiful woman they accidentally crash into (Moran Atias), a Brentwood mother (Clare Carey) experiencing family problems, and so on. The writing team attempts to frontload the action with sex, nudity and violence, but there’s not a whit of originality to it, and the story meanders, with the second episode failing to clarify where any of this is heading. The actors initially appear to be playing types rather than fully developed characters. As for the noirish qualities, well, you’re half waiting for someone to say, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Koreatown.” Oh, and don’t let conspicuous shots of the Hollywood sign fool you. Undoubtedly to save some scratch, the series lensed entirely in New Mexico, which explains why the cacti look even thirstier than usual. Strategically, Starz probably made a savvy move by snagging a marquee name to launch its series foray, but the show possesses less substance than a brisk Santa Ana wind. The promotional slogan provocatively asks, “Have you ever seen a collision up close? You can’t look away.” A full-blown wreck, maybe. But with a fender-bender like this, looking away is no problem at all.