Unfortunately this is not the pervy Cronenberg movie I’ve never gotten around to seeing about the people getting off on car crashes. This is the race relations movie directed by Paul Haggis, writer of Clint’s MILLION DOLLAR BABY. I gotta be honest, my reason for seeing this was not that I thought I would like it, but that I was just real damn curious. Because it got so many rave reviews, and Roger Ebert chose it as the best of the year, but every single person I knew who had seen it said it was corny, overwrought bullshit.
I hate to be a centrist but I think it falls somewhere in the middle. It seems well intentioned. It’s trying to point out different kinds of subconscious racism, it’s trying to show that people are complicated, racists maybe have a chance of being redeemed, people who don’t think they are racists might end up shooting a black dude, etc. It’s one of those movies where there’s a bunch of different characters tangentally connected by coincidence and you find out as the story unfolds what they have to do with each other, which can be fun. And there’s some good little moments and whatnot. One of the best scenes actually involves a cop trying to save somebody from a flipped car before it blows up. In other words, a scene you can see in every single episode of CHiPs. But this is better directed so it’s pretty intense. Also Tony Danza has a cameo.
Other than Tony Danza there’s a good cast and lots of good acting. Terence Howard is always good, Thandie Newton is good, Don Cheadle is real good which is getting kind of old in my opinion. Come on Don, let’s see one movie where your acting sucks. You’re repeating yourself too much. Larenz Tate from MENACE II SOCIETY is in there, I like him. The biggest surprise is Ludacris. I didn’t think he was all that great in the much better HUSTLE & FLOW, but here he really impressed me. Also his character is pretty funny. In his first scene he does a long monologue about racism and how the white woman (Sandra Bullock) that he passed on the street was obviously scared of him and why do white people fear black men and etc., then he pulls out a gun and carjacks Sandra Bullock. And he continues to preach throughout the movie while committing crimes.
So I guess I can see what people like about the movie but it really didn’t work for me. Some people can’t get into KING KONG because they say the dinosaurs look fake. This is the same thing, it’s hard to get involved in the characters when they live in this silly alternate universe where every single encounter you have in your day will lead to people openly expressing their racism. I mean okay, I believe that if you work with Tony Danza, he’s gonna be a racist asshole. Come on Tony Danza, I don’t care if you wrote letters to Tupac while he was in the can, you need to cool it dude.
The thing is, alot of racism is subtle. But CRASH doesn’t have room for subtle. It’s not enough to be a racist cop who pulls over black people for no reason and molests them, you also gotta bring up affirmative action and use the term “you people” while dealing with health care troubles. And rich white ladies have to yell racist things in front of their Hispanic maids and repair men. An argument between a white guy and a Persian guy takes 30 seconds to escalate into yelling about 9-11. And Ludacris keeps using the word “chinaman.” That’s only a few of the incidents. Most of these things have a basis in reality but when you pile them all up it becomes laughable. I mean DO THE RIGHT THING works because the shit is boiling up all day long before it explodes. CRASH is one of those long ass strings of firecrackers.
So you gotta wonder. I’m sure Paul Haggis hopes that, in a best case scenario, his movie will make people think about their own prejudices and try to change. But who the fuck is gonna relate to Sandra Bullock’s horrible bitch character? Nobody is gonna watch her and think, “Oh geez, I yelled the exact same thing about Mexicans in front of my Latin American help! Could it be that I too am a racist and don’t know it? I must mend my ways.”
And the situations just get more and more preposterous. I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny when Ludacris opens the back of the stolen van he’s been driving around and discovers it’s full of smuggled Asian slaves. Not only is it, uh, ludicrous that he didn’t notice this before, but it’s just such an outlandish situation to find yourself in that the movie oughta have an “oh shit, is this really happening?” kind of humor about it. Maybe that’s the problem, the movie is so deadly serious most of the time. That horrible new age score doesn’t help.
Not all of it is that bad though. I kind of like the storyline of the Persian guy. He gets in a big argument with the guy repairing his lock, who says he needs to replace the door but he thinks the guy’s trying to rip him off. The next day his whole store is wrecked with “RAG HEAD” spraypainted on the wall and the insurance won’t cover it because he should’ve fixed the fucking door. He was the one being an asshole in the first place but the punishment is so harsh you have to feel bad for him. And one of the stories that intersects with that one made me laugh out loud (maybe on purpose) with its ridiculously obvious foreshadowing. Let’s just say that a little girl believes she is wearing an invisible bullet proof cloak. Completely ridiculous, but her dad is a likable enough character that it creates some dread and suspense there.
One of the threads in the movie is about a road rage incident where a long haired white cop shoots a black man that turns out to also be a cop. It looks like the black cop was a criminal and started the incident in a coke rage, but the DA wants to blame the white guy to avoid controversy. This is clearly based on the real life incident that sparked off the whole mess that became the Rampart police corruption scandal in L.A. That story kicked off the epic Rolling Stone story “Who Killed Biggie Smalls?” which later became the book LAbyrinth. I remember reading it and thinking “This should be a movie, it would be like a modern day, true life LA CONFIDENTIAL.” When I thought that though, just to be clear, I did not intend for the cast to include Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock and Tony Danza. So maybe we could do another one, please.
The only way to really end this review is with a list. But don’t study it unless you either have seen the movie already or don’t give either 2 (two) shits or 1 (one) flying fuck.
VERN’S INCOMPLETE CRASH RACISM / REDEMPTION SCORE CARD
DON CHEADLE – Seems cool but calls his El Salvadoran girlfriend Mexican, then makes admittedly clever racist joke. Not redeemed, his mom blames him for his brother’s death and doesn’t give him the respect he deserves.
MATT DILLON – Blatantly racist/perverted cop who likes to bring up affirmative action, pull over black people for no reason and molest Thandie Newton. Then he saves Thandie from an exploding car and stares thoughtfully into the distance during a musical montage.
SANDRA BULLOCK – Horrible yuppie bitch who treats her Hispanic maid like shit, calls the repairman a gangbanger and is upset that she didn’t follow her anti-black instincts before getting carjacked by Ludacris. She believes her prejudices are actually a type of Spidey Sense. Then she slips on her ass and this teaches her to love Hispanics.
BRENDAN FRASER – D.A. who only cares about seeming non-racist to black voters. Not a very good actor by the way, is one thing I’ve noticed over the years.
LUDACRIS – Very conscious of racism against blacks, but uses the term “Chinaman” about 75 times. I don’t know if this is an L.A. thing or what. Who the fuck says “Chinaman”? Fortunately the Asian guy he ran over and dumped on the sidewalk turns out to be a human trafficker, so Ludacris redeems himself by deciding not to sell them to a guy that wants to buy them from him for fifty bucks each. This same exact thing happened in THE TOXIC AVENGER only it was an old lady that he dry cleaned to death and she turned out to run a white slavery ring.
TERENCE HOWARD – Not really a racist but a black man who puts up with too much shit from racist white people. So then at the end he flips out and won’t even be nice to the one non-racist white person.
LARENZ TATE – Makes fun of country music
RYAN PHILIPPE – Seems like the nicest guy in the movie, then shoots an unarmed black man. (Sure he was a carjacker but he doesn’t find that out during the movie so it doesn’t count. If he found out the truth like Ludacris did he would be off the hook.)
PERSIAN GUY – Incorrectly blames Hispanic guy for his problems, but is redeemed when he almost kills a little girl but doesn’t and decides she’s an angel. You know, the kind of thing we can all relate to.
HISPANIC GUY – I think maybe you were supposed to think he was racist in his dealings with the Persian guy, but I gotta disagree. He was just trying to fix the lock. This guy gets the rawest deal of anybody who is not killed in the movie. He never hurts anybody, never steals a car, never crashes a car, and is ridiculously nice to his little daughter. And what does he get? An angry customer stalking him and almost killing his daughter. The lock company oughta be paying this guy alot more.
TONY DANZA – This fucker still thinks he’s the fucking boss, so he wants the black actors to “talk black” in his movie. You never see him again so there’s no chance for him to be redeemed or to die. Maybe he slipped on his ass in a deleted scene, it’s hard to say.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.