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The Bridge

Timely in its look at the U.S.-Mexico border, a flawed lead makes 'The Bridge' look rickety

With:
Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Ted Levine, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright, Matthew Lillard, Catalina Sandino Moreno.

FX has helped set the bar pretty high for moody crime dramas, and held up against that standard, “The Bridge” simply doesn’t measure up. Infused with gritty atmosphere and an intriguing setting — set in motion by a grisly crime along the Mexican-U.S. border, evoking memories of “No Country for Old Men” and “Touch of Evil” — the tone comes much closer to “The Killing,” and stumbles badly in its mismatched detectives. Although there are elements here that merit continued attention, most notably Demian Bichir as a dedicated Mexican cop, there are too many missteps to ensure safe passage.

Like “The Killing” adapted from a popular European drama, the series begins with the death of a judge, who is found bisected on the highway connecting the Texas town of El Paso and Mexico’s Juarez. Jurisdictional headaches ensue, with a young female detective, Sonya Cross (Diana Kruger), eager to pursue the case wherever it might lead, while the more reluctant Marco Ruiz (Bichir) knows that on his side of the fence, asking the wrong questions can quickly get you disappeared.

Shot in Texas, Mexico and Los Angeles, and directed by Gerardo Naranjo (“Miss Bala”), the grim pilot certainly conveys a nagging sense of unease, and can’t help but feel timely with border security and immigration reform currently in the political spotlight. Look a little closer, though, and “The Bridge” spans relatively little new ground.

Dramatically speaking, Kruger’s character is clearly the weak link, a failure in terms of both conception and casting. Virtually robotic in her actions and dialogue, she’s utterly lacking in people skills — “Monk,” without the overt diagnosis to explain her odd behavior. (The press materials note she has Asperger’s Syndrome, but three episodes in viewers are pretty much left to guess at the cause of her quirks, which include thoughtlessly stripping in front of her boss, played by Ted Levine, and saying to a woman who has just lost a relative, “I’m sorry if I didn’t exercise empathy.”)

Flawed is one thing — lord knows that worked for “Homeland,” where “The Bridge” exec producer Meredith Stiehm (who developed the show with Elwood Reid) worked for a time — but juxtaposed with the otherwise grim tone those tics become the show’s Cross to bear, an incongruous distraction from the myriad plots surrounding the central mystery, which include some nefarious characters who look like possible suspects, a cranky journalist (Matthew Lillard) drawn into the investigation and Annabeth Gish as a wealthy American rancher who begins to discover strange revelations about her late husband.

Thanks to those threads and especially to Bichir — who, helpfully, isn’t presented as just a white knight — “The Bridge” isn’t a total loss, but it’s notches below the criminal underbelly territory FX has explored with programs like “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

That’s not to say “The Bridge” is structurally unsound, but for now, anyway, it looks a little too rickety for its own good.

The Bridge

(Series; FX, Wed. July 10, 10 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in El Paso, Tijuana and Los Angeles by Filmlance, Shorewood, Elwood Reid and Shine America.

Crew: Executive producers, Meredith Stiehm, Elwood Reid, Carolyn G. Bernstein; producer, Patrick Markey; director, Gerardo Naranjo; writers, Stiehm, Reid; based on the original series “Bron”; camera, Attila Szalay; production designer, Jonathan Carlson; editor, Harvey Rosenstock; music, Ryan Bingham; casting, Rebecca Mangieri, Wendy Weidman. 90 MIN.

Cast: Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Ted Levine, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright, Matthew Lillard, Catalina Sandino Moreno.

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