Reviewer OKs small screen pics

Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009

'Crossing Over'

The Weinstein Company

1 hour, 53 minutes

'Seven Pounds'

Columbia Pictures

2 hours, 3 minutes

"Life is too short," is my mantra on a weekend like this. Weekends like this where, in an effort to get out of the way of behemoth blockbusters like "Harry Potter," the studios release nothing new leaving this poor reviewer with the option of either seeing the third "Ice Age" movie or the "Borat" retread "Brno."

The former is just Pixar-lite, and has little interest for me, and the latter, well, if I wanted to sit and be offended by an obnoxious, self-righteous jerk, I'm sure there are cheaper ways to do it. So, it was off to the video store for me. I found a couple of major star vehicles that I had missed in the theaters, one because it came and went so fast, and the other because it never came at all.

It's not exactly accurate to say that "Crossing Over," the new Harrison Ford immigration drama, was never released in theaters. It was, briefly, out in select cities in February of this year, only to disappear with barely a blip. It's a movie that has been plagued with troubles since it was completed, over two years ago. The story, in "Crash" fashion, portrays a series of different characters, all on one side or the other of the immigration issue in Los Angeles.

Harrison Ford who, though he headlines the cast, is no more the lead than anyone else, is Max, an immigration officer who deports a young mother back to Mexico after she is caught in a sweep at a large textile factory. She pleads with him to collect her young son, but he refuses to listen -- until she's already gone and then his conscience catches up with him.

Other stories include that of a young Muslim girl who foolishly suggests it might be a good idea to try and understand why the 9/11 hijackers did what they did; the depredations of a sleazy immigration bureaucrat played by sleazy Ray Liotta; a Korean boy who flirts with the gangsta life on the eve of his initiation, and more.

It's possible that director Wayne Kramer, who directed the stylishly cool "Running Scared" a few years ago, was simply run roughshod over by the notoriously bullying Weinstein brothers, who produced this film. After all, they did re-edit the film themselves after Kramer turned in his final cut. But so did Ford and Sean Penn, who eventually had himself cut out of the picture entirely because he disagreed with one subplot.

In the end, however, it just isn't all that great a movie. Kramer seems ill-at-ease handling straight-forward drama, his quick zooms and avant-garde camera work are out of place and annoying. The actors do their best, but with only mediocre material to work with, no one particularly shines.

The biggest problem for me was the pandering and one-sided tone of the film. Illegal immigration is a big problem in this country, and while I don't advocate the crazy, "let's-shut-down-the-border," ideas that get thrown around, I agree that there's got to be a strong system in place to manage it all.

In this film there are two groups of people -- those working for Immigration, and those being worked by Immigration. Of those working for, there is apparently only one person, Ashley Judd, who isn't flawed or corrupt in some way. The other side consists of those seeking status legally, and those seeking it illegally, including those who are just hiding.

"Crossing Over" seems to say those getting their citizenship by going through the proper channels either don't deserve it, or don't appreciate it, while those working around the terribly flawed system are the true victims, being forced to lie, cheat, and even prostitute themselves to get what is somehow their God-given right. "Crossing" takes too narrow a view and is simply wrong when it paints everyone with the same brush. By suggesting that the immigration trials and tribulations of Australian hotties and Irish-Jewish singers is on par with that of Hispanics on the border, Kramer just proves that he doesn't really understand the issue.

Grade: C+

The much better movie of the two I watched, though not much more uplifting, is the Will Smith drama, "Seven Pounds." I was very impressed with this emotionally difficult film, up until the final scenes. The exceedingly harsh, yet grandiose climax of the film is something I'm still contemplating as to whether I liked it or didn't, but it was definitely thought-provoking.

Smith is Ben Thomas, a bitter and serious man on a mission. He's a tax collector, but don't imagine that his work has to do with money. He's looking for truly good people who need help -- help he's prepared to give at any cost, so long as the person is truly worthy. Thomas is intense, and as the film unfolds you begin to become aware of a tragic circumstance in his past that drives him.

I won't say any more than that, because I don't want to spoil the suspense. It's not as if there are any huge surprises, but the film is well-written and elegantly plotted and unfolds at just the right pace. Smith, who teams up again with his director from "The Pursuit of Happyness," is excellent and proves yet again that his "Awww, Hell No!" persona is just a facade he puts on for the summer blockbuster season, obscuring a very talented actor underneath.

Also very good is Rosario Dawson as a woman with congenital heart failure. Her presence in "Clerks 2" notwithstanding, Dawson is one of those rare talents who is always good, no matter the quality of the movie.

"Seven Pounds" is a movie that, had the people involved let themselves succumb to schmaltz, could easily have been another "Pay in Forward"-style trainwreck. It's a story of sacrifice, penance, and redemption. The sentimentality is kept to a minimum, however, and Smith is not afraid to be a bastard. I think it ultimately didn't connect with people because of the ending. Seven pounds doesn't sound like a lot, but after a while, it can get pretty heavy.

Grade: B+

"Seven Pounds" is rated PG-13 for language, a brief disturbing scene, and mature themes. "Crossing Over" is rated R for language, violence, nudity and sexuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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