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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Crash

Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter
Director: David Cronenberg
Rated: NC-17
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 1997
Genres: Drama, Cult

*Also starring: Peter MacNeill, Elias Koteas, Deborah Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeil

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
½ star out of 4

A Nordic blonde glances repeatedly into her rear-view mirror. She sees her husband following closely. Suddenly, he accelerates and taps her car with his. He pulls back, then hits her car again, harder. When he rams her car a third time, she veers wildly; barely maintaining control of her vehicle. Is this scene depicting an attempt at murder? No. In David Cronenberg's "Crash," this is foreplay.

Based on J.G. Ballard's 1973 novel, "Crash" is about a group of people who are sexually aroused by car wrecks. The highly controversial NC-17 film won a special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, for "originality, daring and audacity." Ted Turner, owner of Fine Line, the company distributing the film, has been quite vocal about his utter disgust with the movie. Nationally, General Cinema has refused to run "Crash" in any of their theaters.

All this fuss is intriguing, of course, and may tempt you to check out the film. Don't. To put it as succinctly as possible, "Crash" is pretentious crap. David Cronenberg has been cranking out similar creep shows for years. He specializes in nightmare visions of sex merged with technology, heavily spiced with close ups of wounds and surgical instruments. Occassionally he hits pay dirt. His remake of "The Fly" was a spellbinding mixture of horror and romance. But more often, as with "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers," Cronenberg simply produces trumped-up, pseudo-intellectual versions of the kind of Grade Z gore-fests that littered drive-ins back in the 60's.

As for the plot, "Crash" barely has one. James Spader loses control of his car and hits another vehicle head-on, killing the other driver and leaving the driver's wife (Holly Hunter) seriously injured. While hospitalized, Spader meets Hunter's "friend" Vaughn (Elias Koteas,) a grotesquely-scarred performance artist who stages reenactments of famous celebrity crashes. Spader and wife Deborah Unger (the kind of ice queen that frequently popped up in Hitchcock films) quickly become members of Vaughn's car-sex cult. Then everyone in the cast wrecks cars and screws each other for an hour and a half. The end.

There's a lot of sex in "Crash" and most of it is repellent. The most disgusting moment (and there are so many to choose from) comes when Spader hooks up with Rosanna Arquette, a horribly mutilated cult member bedecked with leg braces and lots of leather, and has sex with her scarred-over wound.

Vaughn is the erotic center of the group. The cultists dote on his mangled body and listen intently to his whispered babble. "Crashes mingle the sexual energy of the dead with the living," Vaughn murmurs, "creating an intensity that sets the latter apart from, for lack of a better description, safer drivers." Early on, he tells Spader he's involved in "the reshaping of the human body by modern technology." Later, he confesses that his statement was "just a test," to see if Spader was ready for the *really* heavy stuff. Eventually, everyone in the cast has sex with Vaughn. After all, who could resist a guy like that?

"Crash" has a slow, deliberately mechanical feel. The emotionally stunted characters show no despair over the death of one of their own, merely regretting that they didn't get to watch. They rarely make eye contact during sex. They rarely even act like people; it's as if they are all various aspects of one terribly sad personality.

The consensus of opinion is that "Crash" is a cautionary tale, suggesting that our culture has grown so jaded that we must go to sick extremes to reach any vague semblance of satisfaction. Supposedly, Cronenberg has used these offensive images to force the viewer into examining the nature of sexual obsession, without being distracted by anything genuinely erotic. I doubt it. David Cronenberg has used these images repeatedly throughout his career for a reason. I suspect that he gets off on this stuff, that these images of wounds, surgical instruments and the like reflect what turns him on. I suspect "Crash" has no message, that Cronenberg is simply pulling pictures from some dark corner of his soul and putting them on film because he can. But you don't have to watch him do it.

Copyright 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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