If the idea is to provide a sexual charge through film, there are two basic methods of execution. The first is simply placing a voluptuous goddess like Salma Hayek or Angelina Jolie on screen and allow them to just exude their sensual femininity. The second is pornography. Both are entertaining and do the trick, and neither are natural or sophisticated, yet porn gets the bad reputation. Why? Because it is unnatural and unsophisticated to an extreme. Because it takes a genuine act and emotional experience and expresses it with such raw physicality , devoid of any outer substance, thereby reducing the act to a sideshow fascination.
Crash is like porn. Its depiction of the tenuous race relations in a large diverse metropolis (here, L.A.) is so graphic, in your face, and obvious that you will surely be enthralled and stimulated, but never moved or drawn in.
Continuing on the porn theme (because once there, why leave?) there is a very close relationship between this film and one far better and about the pornography industry. Besides the fact that both Crash and Boogie Nights feature Don Cheadle, it is clear that director Paul Haggis is taking a shot at a Paul Thomas Anderson film, merely swapping porn and despair for bigotry and despair. Both films (as well as P.T.'s Magnolia) feature about a dozen characters dipping (or crashing) in and out of each other's lives, setting off chains of events, making impressions, and undergoing fateful exchanges. The eclectic cast including Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Ludacris, and Brendan Fraser are truly first rate and get extra points for taking small roles for the greater good. The most remarkable performances come from Ryan Phillippe as a young cop and the newly minted Terrence Howard, as a successful black man who finds he will never be anything but a successful BLACK man. The scene where these two finally “crash” into one another is the high water mark of the movie – impossible not to feel their intensity and anguish crawling under your skin.
The problem with the movie is that it is so brash and transparent in its attempt to spotlight and expose every single conceivable racial divide and stereotype, it loses all credibility and can't be but gawked at. One indication of a flaw in the conceptual process comes from an interview I heard with the writer, Haggis and star, Cheadle. While Haggis says the screenplay included all the ugly epithets and themes because the filmmakers felt everything that was true and real should be included, Cheadle commented that the film portrays what we are “thinking” about race, what we hold down deep and don't allow to bubble up to the surface. Well that is a surefire contradiction. Is Crash an honest reflection of society, or is it fantasy? Do we truly live in a world, as Crash suggests, where blacks hate whites who demean Hispanics who are loathed by Asians who begrudge Arabs who despise blacks who dismiss Hispanics and so on to infinity? Maybe Haggis think he is “keeping it real” by showing that our solution to all communication and cultural barriers is pulling a gun. I don't live in L.A. and the film claims to be very L.A. specific so maybe I'm missing something critical. And even if it is true that the color of your skin defines everything about you and every race is prejudged by the other, Crash is not the film to convince me of anything. Yes, Crash can be a scintillating and provocative experience, but then again so was Naughty Night Time Nurses VI.