Film Scouts Reviews


by David Sterritt

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May 19, 1996

I read J.G. Ballard's novel "Crash" just a couple of years ago, so it was fairly fresh in my mind as Cronenberg's adaptation unspooled, capturing the book's menacing weirdness while leaving out some of the thematic emphases that I'd thought Ballard was most interested in. These include a detailed fascination with prosthetic devices (represented in the film mainly by Rosanna Arquette's scenes) and the notion of car accidents as "marriages" in which fleshly and mechanical beings become "one flesh" in a kind of technological matrimony.

What's most interesting and problematic about the movie, as with the slightly earlier "Naked Lunch," is that the more sick and outrageous Cronenberg's material becomes, the more conventional and conservative is the cinematic style he uses to explore it.

"Crash" is major-league kinky in its obsession with the erotics of automotive violence and destruction, but as a movie it's a series of painstakingly correct shots and countershots that develop little aesthetic interest, much less adventurousness, despite the morbid goofiness of their narrative content. Cronenberg may feel it's necessary to temper explosive content with conspicuously tame style lest he lose any hope of a popular audience; whatever his motivation, though, I find his recent movies more compelling in conception than execution.

In any case, James Spader is good as the hero--it's a nice touch to carry Ballard's reflexivity an additional step forward by casting the character named Ballard with an actor named James--and Holly Hunter is unexpectedly strong as the accident aficionado he falls in love with. Ditto for Elias Koteas as the demolition-derby guru whose dream is to recreate Jayne Mansfield's last moments for the entertainment and edification of the loosely knit cult he presides over.

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