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‘Crossing Over’ into unintentional hilarity

A disastrous script, erratic performances and a general air of sanctimony all combine to make the movie laughable when it isn’t flat-out unwatchable.

With immigration remaining a constant subject in the news and the punditocracy, you can’t accuse the new drama “Crossing Over” of neglecting the zeitgeist. There’s so much you can accuse it of, however, from a disastrous script to erratic performances to a general air of sanctimony that all combine to make the movie laughable when it isn’t flat-out unwatchable.

Writer-director Wayne Kramer — who’s previously given us the competent “The Cooler” and the flat-out-bonkers “Running Scared” — follows the templates of “Crash” and “Babel” to the letter, from the interweaving plotlines to the polyglot confrontations to the helicopter shots of traffic coursing its way through a chaotic and unfeeling world.

And if you thought “Crash” and “Babel” were preachy and awful, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Harrison Ford stars as Max Brogan, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer who’s reasonably compassionate compared to many of his compadres. (He cares, dammit!) On a sweatshop raid, a young illegal laborer (Alice Braga) begs Max to pick up her son from a nearby babysitter. He ignores her plea until that night when, kept awake by his conscience, he returns to the scene and recovers the scrap of paper she gave him with the address.

Meanwhile, young lovers Gavin (Jim Sturgess) and Claire (Alice Eve) are trying desperately to stay in the country. He’s a British-born musician who tries to fake being an Orthodox Jew to get a visa, even though he hasn’t been to temple since his bar mitzvah. She’s an Aussie who just got a TV gig and is willing to do anything — even participate in an icky affair with immigration honcho Cole (Ray Liotta) — to get a green card. (And if you thought the shot of a woman crying in the shower after unwillingly having sex was too much of a cliché to ever again be used in movies, you’ve thought about this more than Kramer has.)

Cole’s wife Denise (Ashley Judd), in the meantime, is considering adopting an orphaned African girl whose mother is dying of AIDS. And then there’s Max’s Persian partner Hamid (Cliff Curtis), whose sister may have been the victim of an honor killing, and the Korean gangbanger (Justin Chon) who holds up a convenience store the night before his family are to become naturalized citizens, and the Muslim high-schooler (Summer Bishil of “Towelhead”) who attracts the attention of Homeland Security for writing a school essay in which she attempts to understand the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers.

Trust me, this all sounds way more interesting on paper than how it plays out on screen. Subtlety is constantly forfeited for big, obvious moments that might or might not make any sense whatsoever, to the point where pretty much everyone in the press screening I attended burst out laughing at some inappropriate point. (The film’s worst culprit in this regard involves a long conversation about immigration and the privileges of citizenship between Hamid and the Korean teen in the middle of the holdup-slash-shootout. I can’t begin to do it justice, but it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen on screen all year.)

It also doesn’t help when the script fails to do things like establish who Max is and how he normally behaves — is his rescue of the woman’s child out of the ordinary, or does he do this sort of thing every week?

“Crossing Over” is one of those movies that reminds you how limiting opportunities are for actors of color in Hollywood — I’m sure the talented Bishil and all of the Middle Eastern and Asian actors in the film are grateful to be working, but they’d probably love a crack at a movie that didn’t involve some white filmmaker’s guilty hand-wringing about race in America. They deserve an equal shot at starring in “Bride Wars.”