I don't know about you, but I've had up to here with message movies
which create a rich and hokey tapestry of multi-ethnic life in L.A. by
interweaving several stories which all take place during a short time
period. If President Obama were to declare a moratorium on those, I would
be his supporter for life. Well, maybe not for life. To get that degree of
commitment, he would also have to deport Martin Short and David Schwimmer.
Yes, I know that Schwimmer is an American, but there must be some place
where we can send him. How about Antarctica? Aren't parts of that
technically claimed by America? How about Gitmo?
It's bad enough that the format itself is exhausted and hackneyed, but
it's tragic that the format kept this film from being a pretty damned good
one, which it might have been if the scriptwriter had decided to go with a
more traditional structure, concentrating on the main storylines. By
adding a load of weak and unrelated stories, the script manages to dilute
its strengths, while dragging the running time out beyond the length which
could be reasonably sustained by the content.
The central story involves Harrison Ford as a federal immigration
officer, a field agent who specializes in catching and deporting illegals.
One day he happens to bust a young woman who begs him for help. She does
not resist deportation, but she simply asks him to take care of her son,
who has nobody else to look after him in America. Ford refuses, but is
tormented with guilt and can't get the boy out of his head ...
Meanwhile, Ford's partner is a Persian ethnic whose family is
embarrassed by his younger sister, a typical American girl who shows some
cleavage, chews gum, and has a Latino boyfriend. She and the boyfriend are
killed. The brother is devastated. Harrison Ford demonstrates compassion,
but gradually begins to suspect that his partner is hiding some secrets
about his sister's death ...
Right there are the components for a good movie. Harrison Ford's
storyline tugs on the emotional heart strings, both storylines allow the
writers to examine the immigrant experience in America from many different
angles, and Harrison's partner is an extremely complex man who displays
both strength and weakness of character, a good man torn by conflicting
loyalties. The stories involving Harrison and his partner stayed in the
realm of plausibility, presented both sides of the picture, and dealt with
situations we can all relate to.
Unfortunately, those storylines only took up about half of the running
time, and the other stories involved one-dimensional portrayals of
contrived situations. Ray Liotta plays an immigration officer who offers a
green card to a beautiful Aussie actress in return for hot sex. Yeah,
there's something we can all relate to. I can't tell you how many gorgeous
Aussie actresses I have seduced by pretending to be able to influence
their immigration status. Meanwhile, the actress's boyfriend, who is an
Aussie atheist from a secular Jewish family, plays the "Jewish card" in an
attempt to get his own green card. Elsewhere, in another movie, Liotta's
wife is an immigration lawyer who wants to adopt an orphaned African girl
in order to save her from being deported to some god-awful hell-hole where
nobody actually wants her. In the worst story of all, a Palestinian girl
writes a school essay which is somewhat sympathetic to the 9-11 hijackers,
causing her school to alert Homeland Security.
I'll give an example of why that last story line was so weak, besides
the simple fact that it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The
script leads us to believe that she and her family were dealt with too
harshly by the authorities. Now if she had been punished for writing an
essay, that might have been a valid argument, but in that case she would
have had a dozen ACLU lawyers swarming around her. It would be hard to
pick a more misguided reason to present America negatively than to
criticize the way we deal with free speech. America has its weaknesses,
but it is the only major country in the world where a person cannot commit
a crime by expressing a political opinion!
But what happened in her story was not really about that. When she came
to the attention of Homeland Security, they discovered that she and both
of her parents were illegal aliens. Now what exactly were the federal
authorities supposed to do? At that point her essay was totally
irrelevant. The authorities had to figure out how to deal with a situation
they could not sweep under a rug. Now here's the problem with the script:
although the audience is emotionally manipulated into thinking that the
family is getting screwed somehow, the authorities were actually being
exceptionally lenient. The essay writer had two younger siblings who were
born in America, and the feds allowed the illegal alien father to stay in
our country with those two kids while the mother and the essayist were
deported. Damn! I hope I get to cut a deal like that if I ever get in
trouble for something I really did do. In essence, the father - a
criminal, mind you - got a free pass into America (and presumably, the
right to work here so that he could support the two minor children)!
So here is the lesson we learned from this particular story line: if
you and your parents are all in the country illegally, you might want to
tread very lightly on the pro-Jihadist path. Maybe you might consider
acting as American as possible and fitting in with your peers, but
whatever you do, do NOT draw attention to yourself, whether that attention
is good or bad.
I'm pretty sure most of us already know that.
It's a shame that the screenwriters felt compelled to use the "Crash
and Babel" technique, because it would have been simple to make this a
good movie: eliminate the Liotta, Judd, and essayist storylines and beef
up the others. The role of the woman who pleaded with Harrison Ford to
take care of her son is one which could have been, and needed to be,
expanded. There was also an undeveloped story about an Asian kid which
needed to be filled out. That story could not have been cut because it was
integral to the story line involving Harrison Ford's partner, but it would
need beefing up if it were to stay and contribute to the film.
I'm pretty sure that all of that could have been done in the editing
room from the existing footage. The first indication: it was obvious that
the role of the mendicant mother must have been much bigger at one point,
since she has almost no lines and the actress was Alice Braga, who is too
big a star for what ended up being a cameo. The second indication: the
director's cut was 140 minutes long, and the existing cut is 113 minutes.
The director agreed to waive his right to final cut when the Weinsteins
told him that the 140-minute version was straight-to-DVD material. I'm
assuming he could have taken those 140 minutes and made a good 90-minute
movie instead of a weak 113-minute one if he had been willing to lose some
of his precious story lines and follow the guidelines stated above.
Bingo. Following those guidelines would have created a solid,
multi-dimensional, 90-minute drama headlined by a major star delivering a
competent performance. It would have had some action, and a nifty little
mystery overlay involving the death of the partner's sister. As it stands,
it's a weak, overlong, and often irritating film with too many characters.
Although it still has some good elements, because the core of a good film
is within it, one of its story lines is misguided (the 9-11 essayist),
another is boring (the fake rabbinical student), others are undeveloped
(presumably because of footage lost with the missing 27 minutes), and
there's too much obvious sermonizing.