on May 06, 2005 by Melissa Morrison
If "Crash" were marketed as soft-core porn by an unknown director, it would be praised for raising the genre a level with its ingenuity and high production values. As it happens, it's an anticipated thriller from a respected director (David Cronenberg), so it feels like a devolution. The film, based on the 1973 novel by J.G. Ballard, opens with airplane sex and closes with car sex. In between, there's anonymous sex, lesbian sex, homosexual sex, public sex as well as the introduction of the word "anus" into the mainstream film vocabulary. The acting, especially that of Deborah Unger, who plays the wife of car crash victim James Ballard (James Spader), is of the vacant, breathy variety.
   The device that prompts all this copulation is a fascinating one: The participants are linked by having survived car accidents. The near-death experience is a kind of freedom, which survivors try desperately to recreate. Or, as their leader Vaughan ("Exotica's" Elias Koteas) puts it, crashes mingle the sexual energy of the dead with the living, creating an intensity that sets the latter apart from, for lack of a better description, safer drivers. Ballard meets Vaughan through the woman he hit in a head-on collision, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), and with whom he is soon having an uncomfortable-looking parking lot affair. Vaughan recreates famous smash-ups, such as James Dean's, for an audience of fellow crashees--and with no stunt men or special padding as part of the deed. The connection between sensuality and incapacitation has been explored before, such as in Helmut Newton photographs and Ken Russell's segment of "Aria." Cronenberg successfully makes that connection in the character of Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), a cripple who sports a leather miniskirt and black brace, complete with built-in cigarette case. Cronenberg has limned an eerie little pocket of modern urban life, but the pocket is in a dirty old man's raincoat. Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas. Directed, written and produced by David Cronenberg. A Fine Line release. Thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 103 min. Won Special Jury Prize. Screened at Cannes
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