Crash: Small screen adaptation falls flat

In 2005, Crash became the little movie that could when it unexpectedly won the Academy Award for Best Picture, beating out the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. The movie, starring Hollywood heavyweights Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Terrence Howard, depicts a three-day period in Los Angeles where several interrelated events bring strangers together. It is a compelling look at race and gender relations, discrimination and bigotry. The executive producers of Crash have adapted the successful film into a television series for Starz.

Like the film, the television series brings to the forefront the tensions between ethnicities, religions and gender. Through a collection of interrelated cases of prejudice, the show serves as a window into the quiet injustice that occurs within law enforcement, the rich and powerful and the world of medicine.

Veteran actor Dennis Hopper headlines the cast as a drug-addicted music producer looking for his next star, who may just be his driver, played by Jocko Sims. Other characters include a model-turned-police officer, a Brentwood housewife, a real estate developer and an illegal Guatemalan immigrant.

The pilot episode begins with a steamy sex scene that twists into an eye-opener on gender discrimination. After this scene, the episode walks the viewer through several more instances that reflect the crimes committed behind-the-scenes: bribery, indecency, robbery, discrimination and unfair arrests.

The show focuses upon issues of national identity versus race and heritage. A Korean gang member-turned-paramedic, played by Brian Tee, must make a choice between his past and his future, placing him at a constant crossroads with his former friends and co-workers. At one point, a homicide detective tells him, “Make a choice, Korean or American.”

Crash exposes the racism and sexism within law enforcement which is supposed to be representative of justice and equality. There are two-faced cops and sexist agents. In episode three, homicide detective Axel Finet (Nick Tarabay) abuses his power and holds the father of a suspected murderer at gun point in order to arrest his son. This reveals inequality in both society and the forces that regulate it.

The overall coverage of prejudices in the show is very touching, exposing the subtle instances of abuse through discrimination that occur every day, unchecked and overlooked. It seems that in a world which feels the need to systemize and govern its own, those with power never really escape from their own personal prejudices.

However, Crash certainly isn’t afraid to show a little —or a lot—of skin, to indulge the fantasies of its viewers. But when sex is used in this sense, it becomes a gimmick and unfortunately, this alone cannot keep the audience’s attention.

Crash benefits from being a 13-episode series and not a two hour film. While the film can feel as though it is simplifying issues and placing a very obvious

Hollywood message onto events, the television show goes into great depth. Characters and situations are not just cornerstones and stereotypes of a larger picture.

This being said, there is still nothing spectacular about Crash as a television series. While there is a possibility for amazing characters and intriguing story lines, in the first five episodes, the viewer is left without a tangible connection to the series. Instead of generating a necessary conversation about race, like the movie did, the audience is left thinking, “So what?”

What made the 2004 film so compelling for audiences was its overall message and reminder that we are all more alike than we imagine and what we do affects others. This message is not carried throughout the television series. The relationships between the characters are not apparent or profoundly moving.

Adapting a successful movie is a difficult task. Sometimes it works (MASH) and other times it does not (My Big Fat Greek Life). Crash, unfortunately, represents the latter.

Crash airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Starz.

Published: November 13, 2008
The Mount Holyoke News

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