Tackling the thorny issues of immigration and diversity in modern America has produced varied results. On the one hand, there are the serious, sprawling oeuvres in the Crash and Traffic vein. And on the other, the comic romances a la Green Card. A glance at Crossing Over's extensive cast will leave you in no doubt as to which direction this film, by the director of the surprise 2003 hit The Cooler, has tried to take.
Harrison Ford plays a soft-hearted Los Angeles Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent whose humanitarian streak seems at odds with a job that involves storming factories full of illegal Mexican workers and sending them packing. From his story stems several others: that of his Iranian-American partner, Hamid (played by the New Zealand-born actor Chris Curtis), whose family is about to gain naturalisation in the US; an idealistic immigration lawyer (Judd, sporting a gold, Africa-shaped pendant) who is fighting to adopt a Nigerian child while defending a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl (Summer Bishil) whose high school essay expressing sympathy for the September 11 attackers has branded her a budding terrorist; and that of a young Australian actress (Alice Eve) who is ruthlessly exploited by a government official (Liotta, in great skin-crawling form) as she tries to secure a green card.
And that's not all. There's also the teenage Korean renegade who is making every attempt to bite the hand that feeds him; the young British musician whose desire to work in a faith school sees him feign adherence to Judaism; and the deported Mexican worker who is attempting to get back to the US to find her son. All are fighting tooth and nail for a life in the land of the free, with predictably mixed results.
The problem with trying to tell so many stories at once is that rather than giving us time to examine and understand each case, the film resorts to simplistic and sometimes cringe-makingly broad brush strokes to make its points that we are all united and divided by the same things - something that Kramer hammers home every time he flicks between stories using an aerial shot of a spaghetti-like junction - and that gaining citizenship is often only half the battle.
He is so intent on seeing the stories from every angle that the heart of them is lost. Apart from one scene at the airport where a family is melodramatically ripped apart, what we are left with is remarkably unaffecting. Without the grit, it begins to take on a glossy, formulaic feel, and the final scene, in which many of the characters are gathered at their naturalisation ceremony in front of a gargantuan Stars and Stripes, is teeth-grindingly awful.
Despite all this, Crossing Over remains, at times, pleasantly watchable. This is mostly due to the performances, of which Eve, as the self-destructively ambitious actress, and Bishil, as the naive high school student, shine through. Ford, though, seems to be on autopilot. Despite his character initially appearing to play a pivotal role, we never learn anything about how he has managed to stay for so long in a job that he isn't capable of carrying out. Or why he always looks so hangdog. Is he lonely? Or is he just weighed down by moral dilemmas?
Crossing Over wants to give us much to think about. But by splitting our attention in 15 directions and beating its pseudo-liberal drum at a deafening volume, there is little room for anything other than baffled consideration. That spaghetti junction metaphor is, perhaps, more apt than Kramer realises.