Aiming for burning drama, "Crash" goes up in smoke

Thu Oct 16, 2008 8:33pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - As we have come to learn, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who adored the Oscar-winning 2004 feature "Crash" and those who loathed it.

But even those who found it an outrageously heavy-handed, gratingly simplistic allegory on the purportedly simmering hellhole of violence and rage that is Los Angeles might grudgingly acknowledge a certain poetic symmetry to the presentation. That lyrical quality is missing from "Crash," the new TV series version of the film and the first hourlong scripted drama series on the cable network Starz.

If you have trouble finding Starz on your cable system, well, that's the reason why Starz has gone to the expense of resurrecting "Crash" as a high-profile 13-episode cable entry. Starz Entertainment would like this show to do for it what "Mad Men" has managed to do in helping brand and define AMC.

Paul Haggis, the co-writer/director of the "Crash" film, has said he originally saw his creation as a TV drama rather than a big-screen flick, and he's listed as one of four executive producers on the new project. But this can't be the show he had in mind.

Even more stupefying one-dimensional than the film, the series blasts out a collection of crude, disturbing images without a true unifying theme. No longer an allegory, it has devolved into an excuse to shock and repulse, as demonstrated in the pilot script from Glen Mazzara, Ted Mann and Randy Huggins. It opens as an off-putting, disconnected series of vignettes about rage and evil and insanity and money. The only big name in the cast is Dennis Hopper, who portrays an angry hip-hop producer prone to bouts of fury whose first scene finds him talking to his penis in the back of a limo. Yes, his penis.

The fact that "Crash" was shot in New Mexico -- because the tax incentives are better than those in Los Angeles -- perfectly encapsulates an hour that struggles mightily to be something it's not. Like the film that preceded it, the series wants us to believe there is race-baiting danger and mayhem lurking around every corner of our fair metropolis but lacks even the courage of these convictions. The racial fire is oddly muted, the characters disturbingly undefined, the interaction frustratingly nondescript. It's unclear what the show aims to be other than chaotic and boorish. On those counts, sadly, it succeeds brilliantly.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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