crash posterI braved the huge mob of Tom Stoppard fans last night to catch a movie that’s been getting better reviews than Star Wars Ep III and has already made the IMDb’s Top 250: Crash.

Crash has to be the most mis-advertised movie since The Life Aquatic. The folks at Lion’s Gate manage to cut an entire trailer that doesn’t once touch on the central theme: racism. I don’t know why Lion’s Gate is scared. This is not a dull, preachy movie. This is a grand character-piece full of wonderful writing, acting and directing. Don Cheadle’s character’s speech about people crashing into each other, so lame in the trailer, is followed by a laugh line in the movie that completely redeems it — you would never know from the trailer that the movie balances, quite well, a serious tone with lighter moments.

Read more…A coincidence movie along the lines of Short Cuts or Ten Manipulations, Crash, manages to stretch less to bring its characters crashing together than Magnolia, Intermission, or most other representatives of the genre. By making several of the main characters law enforcement officers, there is little strain on the neat plot, a plot which is bursting with dramatic irony, even more so than writer-director Paul Haggis’ Oscar-nominated script for Million Dollar Baby.

The movie opens and closes with fender-benders, and has a major one right in the middle. All those who haven’t liked the movie have had problems with the coincidence of the central car crash — one that I find plausible enough, probably because I bought into Matt Dillon’s yin-yang character. To me, Dillon and Cheadle give the movie’s best performances, with Ryan Phillipe, Sandra Bullock, Tony Danza and Brendan Fraser getting credit for performing above expectations. Other characters aren’t necessarily written to show three dimensions, and some might argue that the wise-talking thugs (rapper Ludacris and actor Larenz Tate) are plot-efficient self-aware stereotypes. The gun store owner, who begins the rascism chain by confusing a Persian with an Iraqi, is the worst offender, but thankfully not a recurring character.

While the final crash strikes a sour note just as the movie is ending, the explosive climactic scenes in each of the storylines, miscarriages of justice that refuse to be wrapped in a tidy bow, and the fearlessness to examine rascism among many different ethnic groups earn Crash an easy pass on its minor contrivances. This is the sort of smart, humane drama that shocks Hollywood every time by making lots of money. In fact, the per-engagement average of Crash is a whopping $6,756. That’s not to say that because a movie makes lots of money, it’s good. After all, Star Wars Episodes I & II made aircraftcarriersful of money. But, despite horrible marketing (not only the trailer but posters and print ads that fail to sell the movie), good word of mouth is keeping the movie alive and will probably be enough to earn it a well-deserved wide release. Paul Haggis has clearly established himself as a formidable writer-director and Don Cheadle’s performance is so memorable that it may not be forgotten come Oscar time. In the final analysis: this is a movie worth seeing now in theaters, as an antidote to the usual summer fare, and, at the very least, not to be missed when it comes to video.