The melting pot is boiling over in this overheated drama from the screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis. Probably the most racially charged mainstream movie since Do the Right Thing, Crash crams Sandra Bullock, half a dozen major characters, four significant story strands and at least as many ethnic types into a 24 hour rondo.
Spike Lee had it easy in Bed-Stuy. Haggis has to work much harder to keep his segregated Angelinos intersecting. Only police officers, lawbreakers and locksmiths traverse the borderlands between the haves and the have-nots. Brendan Fraser's ambitious DA is carjacked by Ludacris and Larenz Tate; yuppies Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton are humiliated by racist cop Matt Dillon; a Persian shopkeeper (Shaun Toub) tools up after his premises is burgled; detective Don Cheadle reports back to Fraser, and so on and so forth.
If Crash reminds us how overwhelmingly white Short Cuts and Magnolia were, it's an altogether more prosaic piece of filmmaking, and its focus is actually rather narrower. Haggis has a grand design all right - he might have called it Intolerance, except D.W. Griffith got there first but in shaping his relentless, revolving cycle of resentment, abuse, fear and violence he's cut too many corners to really convince. Scratch away the strong performances and you find any number of TV stereotypes underneath; dissect the story and you realise it's built on contrivance and coincidence. What's genuinely disturbing is how many American critics seem to recognise themselves in this distorted crazy mirror.