You can feel the characters being moved around like pieces on a chessboard in “Crossing Over,” an overweeningly deterministic mosaic of U.S. immigration case studies. Unlike “Crash,” to which it invites comparisons due to its identical structure, Los Angeles setting and similar socially conscious intent, Wayne Kramer’s film at least remains cognizant of why people want to come to the United States in the first place, and more plausibly blends positive and negative events. However, the way the picture dwells almost exclusively on cinematically exploitable elements — gangbanger crime, prostitution, honor killing, terrorism paranoia — gives it a sordid patina that even the classy, able thesps can’t offset. Harrison Ford’s presence atop the ensemble cast should boost this Weinstein Co. release to a decent opening, but longer-term prospects are modest.
A transplant himself — from South Africa, in 1986 — Kramer has come up with a wider range of immigrant stories than is the norm, in that the vignettes don’t predominantly deal with poor, Spanish-speaking characters from south of the border. Granted, the opening scene features a sweatshop raid led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Max Brogan (Ford), in which a young Mexican mother (Alice Braga) is taken away to be deported despite her having a young son, whose welfare Brogan decides to make his business.
But the way the film’s attention fans out provides some welcome fresh angles on the wide variety of the immigrant experience, in particular the illicit ways in which some, specifically those with showbiz aspirations, try to obtain real green cards or create phony ones.
Brit Gavin Kossef (Jim Sturgess) and Aussie Claire Sheperd (Alice Eve) are a couple who have grown apart, it is suggested, due to their uncertain status in the country. Gavin, an aspiring singer and atheistic Jew, plays club gigs and gets a job teaching music at a Jewish school on condition that he study the religion and keep his illegal status secret. Foxy blonde Claire, desperate to become “the next Nicole or Naomi,” makes a huge moral compromise after a chance meeting with Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), a middle-aged green-card application adjudicator, agreeing to have sex with him for two months if he greases the path for her residency. This doesn’t go down too well with Gavin.
Brogan’s tough ICE partner Hamid Baraheri (Cliff Curtis) is of Iranian descent and his father, an enormously wealthy businessman who fled the 1979 revolution, is about to be finally naturalized an American citizen. However, the old man is none too pleased about what the New World has done to the morals of his daughter Zahra (Melody Khazae), who’s consorting with a counterfeiter — who’s been helping out Claire.
And so the dots begin to connect in Kramer’s screenplay, which is credible enough in its observations of assorted immigrant dilemmas but, when taken together, feels far too contrived due to the diverse characters’ forced interconnectedness. The idea, of course, is to suggest how everyone — citizens and illegals — are in this together, and the challenge for the country is to figure out how to be as fair and just as possible.
Subplot of Cole’s childless wife Denise (Ashley Judd), who just happens to be an immigration-preoccupied defense attorney, trying to convince her husband to adopt a Nigerian orphan is awfully ordinary and contrived, while another story strand involving a Korean teenager’s (Justin Chon) walk on the wild side feels like rejected scenes from “Gran Torino.” More bracing, although again nothing new, is the sorry fate of a Bangladeshi teenager (Summer Bishil, “Towelhead”) who has the audacity to present a not-unsympathetic view of the 9/11 hijackers to a school class.
Sense of forced coincidences and ironies goes way over the top — or under the bottom — in a climactic scene in which some highly unsavory personal dramas are played out against the backdrop of a mass citizenship ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center. Although there are winners and losers among the immigrants and the officials who deal with them, Kramer wraps everything up too tidily.
Very low-key and performing several of his scenes in grammatical Spanish with a mile-wide American accent, Ford successfully suppresses his superstar aura to integrate himself into the ensemble. Most perfs are right on the nose, with no subtext, although Curtis and Eve convey the enormous turmoil roiling inside them stemming from their untenable situations.
Production values are solid.