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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

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie review
4.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review video review
5.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

CRASH is an extremely well made but utterly preposterous show. It is so far out that it is off of any scale you can imagine. Suffice it to say that it pushes the limits of its NC-17 rating. All of this notwithstanding, the film is a taut thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The day before the press screening of CRASH, I saw a screening of a film, KISSED, about necrophilia. KISSED seems like REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM in comparison with CRASH.

CRASH's Canadian director, David Cronenberg, has a taste for films on the edge. Some of them have been critical and financial successes. Perhaps his most widely acclaimed film was THE FLY, but I am also a fan of THE DEAD ZONE and DEAD RINGERS. Cronenberg's last film was the controversial M. BUTTERFLY.

Now, what if you team Cronenberg with a writer who is even farther out? Well, CRASH's script was adapted by Cronenberg from a semi- autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard. Although you may know Ballard from another semi-autobiographical novel of his, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, his background is more in the science fiction realm.

The press kit is a treasure trove of information on the author. Ballard says that, "'Crash' is an autobiographical novel in the sense that it is about my inner life, my imaginative life." More telling is the quote from a reader employed by his publisher, who, upon reading "Crash," declared that, "This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!"

Have you ever thought of car crashes as a mating dance for Homo sapiens? Well, Ballard did and that's only part of his amoral, sexual fantasies in the film.

James Spader, recreating a character with the same coldness as Graham in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, plays James Ballard. Ballard in the film is a sometime film producer. Most of the film he is either engaged in sex or car crashes or both. He and his wife Catherine (Deborah Unger) make love in ways and in places you've probably never thought of before. (The film does not discriminate. People young and old, rich and poor, clean and dirty, male and female -- all have sex with each other in various combinations.) Unger is perfectly cast in the role. Her vacant eyes had me convinced that she was dead more than once during the film.

James has an accident early in the film when his car crashes head on into another car. The dead driver of the other car is thrown into the front seat with James. He exchanges stares with the passenger in the other car, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter). After James and Helen get out of the hospital, they find that car crashes are the ultimate sexual turn-on for them. Second would be bodily disfiguration caused by crashes.

The car crashes and the sex scenes are quite graphic and realistic. Cronenberg delights in gratuitous violence. And yet, the filmmaking is intriguing despite its repugnant aspects. Still, if you or a close friend has ever been hurt in a car crash, I would avoid this film like the plague since it will undoubtedly rekindle bad memories. Those of us fortunate enough not to be in that position can perhaps look upon the film a bit more dispassionately. (When I entered the parking garage before the picture I was almost hit from behind, and when I left, I was almost hit in the front. I am not making this up as Dave Barry would say.)

Just when you think you've met the weirdest group of characters imaginable, stranger people still come on the scene. Easily the most deviant character of the lot is a fellow known as Vaughan (Elias Koteas). His specialty is recreating the great car crashes of history. As he and two of his friends reenact the James Dean crash, one wonders who will survive. In the viewing stands, even James and Helen are surprised by Vaughan's antics until, of course, they get turned on by them. Vaughan is something of a philosopher. He tells us that, "The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event."

Perhaps the whole show can be summed up in the scene where the whole crowd of car crash worshipers huddle around their television. Looking like Super Bowl Sunday, these viewers are glued to the screen, watching tapes of car crashes even if the narration is in German. When the VCR freezes during Helen's favorite crash, she acts like an addict getting the shakes from trying to kick the habit. (Also in their clique is Rosanna Arquette playing a woman named Gabrielle whose legs are bound in metal casts from her accident.)

The cinematography by Peter Suschitzky is alternatively beautiful and gory -- blending shadows, headlights, chrome, sex, and gashing wounds. The sets by Carol Spier are gritty and almost clinically realistic. The oppressive music by Howard Shore bristles with tension from the twangy guitar strings. The music could be administered to prisoners of war in an attempt to crack them.

When the half dozen critics left the press screening, each of us found ourselves saying to the other, "Drive carefully."

CRASH runs 1:40. It is rated NC-17 for graphic violence, accident carnage, full frontal nudity, explicit and aberrant sexual content, drug usage, and the list goes on. This show is not appropriate for kids of any age. As a thriller and a piece of filmmaking, CRASH is quite impressive, but I could never bring myself to recommend this exploitive film. I give it **.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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