Judge Clark Douglas thinks watching this show is about as much fun as being involved in a car crash.
Our reviews of Crash: The Complete First Season (published September 15th, 2009), Crash (2004) (published August 29th, 2005), and Crash: Director's Cut (published April 24th, 2006) are also available.
New lives. New accidents.
The controversial Paul Haggis film that won an Academy Award for Best Picture is turned into a television series. Does it work? No.
Facts of the Case
In modern day Los Angeles, the lives of a diverse selection of individuals intersect and interweave, occasionally crashing into each other with considerable force. The players include oddball record producer Ben (Dennis Hopper, Red Rock West), stressed-out real estate developer Peter (D.B. Sweeney, Eight Men Out), womanizing police officer Kenny (Ross McCall, Green Street Hooligans 2), Kenny's frustrated partner Bebe (Arlene Tur, Last Exit), angry car crash victim Inez (Moran Atlas, Land of the Lost), illegal immigrant Cesar (Luis Chavez, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles), suburban mother Christine (Clare Carey, Jericho), young limo driver Anthony (Jocko Sims, Jarhead), arrogant detective Axel (Nick Tarabay, The Sopranos), and many others. As these confrontations build to a point of dissolving and/or exploding, we witness examinations of race relations, class warfare, and many other aspects of life in the modern world.
Thirteen episodes are spread across four Blu-ray discs.
When Paul Haggis' Crash was released in 2004, it was initially greeted with a great deal of critical acclaim. This was followed by a somewhat sharp critical backlash (Crash-lash?) that sparked a noisy debate among both casual and ardent moviegoers. Some felt that the film was an intensely moving and profound dramatic experience while others insisted that it was nothing more than cheap, overblown, oversimplified sermonizing about race relations. No matter which side of the spectrum you were on, it has to be admitted that Crash was a film that inspired very strong feelings in people. They might have been positive or negative, but few people saw Crash and simply forgot about it. The film not only was a surprise hit at the box office, but also managed to controversially take home an Oscar for best picture.
Looking to capitalize on the success of the film, Crash producers Paul Haggis, Don Cheadle, Bob Yari, and television writer Glen Mazzara decided to transform the film into a television series for Starz. None of the characters from the film have roles in the program, but the basic concept is rather similar: a large group of loosely-connected characters are thrown into various human confrontations (often racially charged). Truthfully, the race angle is perhaps a bit less dominant than it was in the film, but the tone feels pretty similar nonetheless. Perhaps a little too similar, to be honest. Watching Crash: The Complete First Season, I felt I was watching an imitation that memorized the words and notes but was completely missing the rhythm.
I mentioned that the feature film version inspired strong feelings. For some reason, the television version inspired almost no feelings in me. There's so little to connect to in this program. I felt detached from almost all of the characters, as if I was being invited to view them from a superior perspective as they go about their pained lives. Most of the characters in the movie were deeply flawed individuals, but many audience members were able to empathize with them. Crash was an effective experience because it was able to find aspects of humanity that many people recognized within themselves. I doubt that many people are going to engage in much self-reflection after watching this version.
The characters in this program mostly range from dull to ridiculous. The lead player (more or less) is Dennis Hopper as the very eccentric Ben, a character that seems to have been written specifically for Mr. Hopper. The actor has proudly stated in interviews that this is the craziest character he's ever played. Eh, maybe so. It's certainly one of the least coherent roles he's ever played. Ben's odd behavior doesn't seem to be rooted in something real and terrifying (consider Hopper's roles in Blue Velvet and Red Rock West), but rather in an attempt by the writers to indulge Hopper's crazy side. His rambling monologues feel like they should be joyously fun, but they just aren't. Hopper seems to have started with the character's tics first and worked backwards from there. He certainly grabs your attention whenever he's onscreen, but that's surprisingly not a good thing most of the time.
Still, Hopper's storyline isn't the worst part of the program. That honor goes to the portrayal of the relationship between Ross McCall's lusty cop and Morian Atias' sexually charged accident victim. Their story plays like a subplot from a fourth-rate remake of David Cronenberg's identically-titled (but very, very different) Crash. Atias plays one of the worst female characters I've seen on television, initially playing a screeching Hispanic stereotype before transforming into a sex-crazed embarrassment with a desperate desire to sleep with the cop who hit her car. Wow, there are so many things that don't work there. The rest of the cast is competent, but rarely anything more (aside from a surprisingly impressive four-episode guest turn from Tom Sizemore).
The hi-def transfer is satisfactory, at least. The show has a visual style that veers between "slick" and "gritty," often depending on the needs of the scene. Though it's a bit on the grainy side at times, overall the transfer gets the job done in clean and clear fashion. Don't expect a Lost-level knockout, but this is considerably better than HD television broadcasts. Blacks could be a bit deeper and background detail is occasionally obscured, but otherwise I have no major complaints. The audio is merely adequate, as the Mark Isham-penned music (also a pale imitation of his work on the feature film) and the lackluster sound design fail to be terribly immersive. Dialogue is clear, and the track has no noteworthy flaws, but it does almost nothing in terms of impressing, either. Supplements include a making-of featurette, an option to watch a single character's story arcs via seamless branching (kind of a nifty idea, but who wants to do that?), an alternate ending to the season finale and some character bios.
Crash: The Complete First Season is as unsuccessful in its attempts to recreate the virtues of its cinematic predecessor as it is in its attempts to create an HBO-style measure of grit and "reality" by including ample doses of sex, nudity, foul language, and violence. Nearly everything the show contains can be found presented in a more intriguing way in some other film or television show, including the film that serves as the inspiration for this mess. It looks decent on blu-ray, but pretty images aren't enough to save the day.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Alternate Ending
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