In writer-director Wayne Kramer's "Crossing Over," Harrison Ford plays Max Brogan, a weary Los Angeles-based agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although many of his working hours are spent busting illegals, his heart is no longer in the job. When a sweatshop raid collars a Mexican mother (Alice Braga), she pleads with Max to spare her young son from abandonment. [Editor's note: The original version omitted the first paragraph.]
It's a powerful opening to a movie that rapidly fractures into a hodgepodge of interlocking subplots showcasing immigration woes. The film's structure is similar to that of "Crash," another overweening, high-style melodrama that reeked with self-importance.
You practically need a flow chart to keep all the players straight. Max's ICE partner, Hamid (Cliff Curtis), of Iranian descent, has a wealthy father who fled the 1979 revolution and is about to become a naturalized US citizen. His Goth-like daughter Zahra (Melody Khazae), however, has adopted what he views as loose Western ways – a real no-no.
A young Bangladeshi teenager, Taslima (Summer Bishil, from "Towelhead"), reads aloud to her class an essay sympathizing with the 9/11 attackers – another big no-no. Enter the FBI. Gavin (Jim Sturgess), a British illegal and nonpracticing Jew, gets a job at a Jewish day school on the condition that he not reveal his immigration status to anybody. His aspiring Aussie actress girlfriend Claire (Alice Eve) prostitutes herself with Cole (Ray Liotta), a green card application adjudicator, whose wife (Ashley Judd), is an immigration defense attorney battling for the rights of a young African girl.
Kramer somehow manages to connect all these dots, but the achievement is largely technical. It's like watching the working out of a theorem. He might have done better if he had focused on a single story – like, say, the Harrison Ford one, which at times resembles, to its disadvantage, the underrated "The Border" (1982), where Jack Nicholson played a border guard who becomes involved with a young Mexican mother.
But clearly Kramer, who is himself a naturalized US immigrant from South Africa, felt that more was better here. Each narrative is pitched for maximum emotional effect, but this tactic soon becomes exhausting. When a story line threatens to become powerful, such as the ones involving Taslima or Claire, Kramer invariably cuts away to more mundane melodramatics, especially those involving a Korean teenager (Justin Chon) pressured into joining a gang.
Harrison Ford is the only marquee name here, and his tiredness as the ICE agent seems bone-deep. His performance might seem more impressive if his snarly world-weariness were not already familiar to us from his last 20 movies. Ford hasn't been terribly astute in his choice of roles: You can't blame him, I suppose, for reprising Indiana Jones, but what about "Firewall," "Hollywood Homicide," "Random Hearts," and "K-19: The Widowmaker," where he played a Russian naval officer with an authenticity as light as his accent was thick?
The best thing you can say about "Crossing Over" is that, unlike most movies set in Los Angeles, it features working-class districts that do not often make it to the screen. This is the mundane, multiracial workaday world in which most Angelenos, as opposed to most movie stars, live their lives. "Crossing Over" is not a success but make no mistake: There is great drama to be found in these streets. (Rated R for pervasive language, some strong violence, and sexuality/nudity.) Grade: C+.