Rumor has it that Crossing Over endured a post-production experience so hellish that Sean Penn's character was cut entirely from the film, and three different versions of the film were screened for test audiences. That may explain in part how the movie turned into such an earnest, unfocused mess, but Crossing Over is really a movie that never should have been made, four years after Crash, for better or for worse, put the definitive stamp on this intersecting stories type of drama.
The movie constantly begs the Crash comparison, linking scenes with aerial shots of Los Angeles freeways and deliberately stuffing the story with every race, nationality and religion imaginable. But instead of an overt moral sermon about race relations, Crossing Over is an overt moral sermon about immigration, with no real answers to the myriad complications and issues it brings up.
There's the problem of illegal Mexican immigrants, personified by terrified mother Mireya (Alice Braga) and the INS official Max Brogan (Harrison Ford), who arrests her but vows to reunite her son with his grandparents in Mexico. The legal side of the equation is represented by Ashley Judd, playing a pro bono immigration defense lawyer who is smug and self-satisfied even without the gold-plated Africa-shaped necklace she wears for the entire film. She's married to skeezy lawyer Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), who meets struggling Australian actress Claire (Alice Eve) and promises to get her a green card if she becomes his sex slave. Jim Sturgess gets to play the only character with any sense of humor, a Brit pretending to be a religious Jew in order to get his permanent residency. There's also an Iranian family with a black sheep daughter, a Korean family about to get naturalized, and a Bangladeshi family with a daughter (Summer Bishil) whose sympathies with Al-Qaeda warrant some unwanted attention from the FBI.
It's a ridiculously packed plot, which gives short shrift to pretty much every character except Brogan, who is among the least interesting of the bunch. Any number of actors put their best into their performances, particularly Bishil and Eve, but the movie gives far more focus to its fleeting moments of action than any real character development.
Instead of picking a specific aspect of the immigration experience to analyze, writer and director Wayne Kramer wants to encompass everything, criticizing the coyotes who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border right down to bureaucrats who stamp visa applications. There's no overarching message, other than a sense that you're damn lucky if you were born here. And when the whole thing devolves into an overbaked crime drama, courtesy of an honor killing subplot that inspired Penn to drop out of the film, you wonder if even Kramer lost sight of his convictions and decided to just entertain the audience instead.
There are sections in which Crossing Over moves fairly smoothly, bouncing from one segment to another in a way that makes it easy to get lost and follow along. But all it takes is one line of laughable dialogue, or an awkward transition between emotionally overwrought scenes, to remember how empty the whole thing really is. There are so many problems with the immigration system worth exposing, and it's a shame that Crossing Over has given poor treatment to pretty much all of them.