Wayne Kramer's Crossing Over is a bad movie, but it's not bad in the usual ways. The camerawork doesn't shake, boom mikes don't dip into the frame, and the actors tend to remember their lines. The story moves forward in a reasonably cohesive way. On most levels it even resembles a good movie. In fact, it very closely resembles something that once won an Oscar for Best Picture: Crash (2005). Like that movie, It tells the story of a cross-section of characters in Los Angeles, all of whom are connected in some way to a sticky issue, immigration this time, rather than racism. Harrison Ford leads the way as Max Brogan, an ICE agent whose colleagues often tease him for being a softie. During a raid on a sweatshop, his heart goes out to a woman, Mireya Sanchez (Alice Braga), who claims to have a young son at home. He nearly lets her go, and later regrets his decision not to.

Next up, we get Ashley Judd as Denise Frankel, who is an immigration attorney focused on finding a foster home for a young Nigerian girl; Denise wears a little Africa pendant just to show how much she cares. Her husband is a louse of an INS official, Cole (Ray Liotta). One day, he gets into a car accident outside his office building. The driver of the offending vehicle is an illegal Australian immigrant, the beautiful Claire Shepard (Alice Eve), who has already found work as an actress but whose paperwork has been lost in the system. Cole quickly arranges to help her in exchange for a series of sleazy, sweaty hotel room encounters.

Claire has a British friend, Gavin (Jim Sturgess), who is trying to use his Jewish heritage to gain citizenship papers; he tries to pass himself off as a religious scholar, even though he has never had any such training, and, in fact, claims to be an atheist. Then we have Brogan's partner, Hamid Baraheri (Cliff Curtis), whose family comes from Iran. He has a sister, Zahra (Melody Khazae), who likes to wear makeup and low-cut tops and who causes the family great distress. Then there's the Bangladeshi teenager, Taslima (Summer Bishil, from Towelhead), who gives a paper defending the motives of the 9/11 terrorists and brings immigration agents down on her family. Finally, we get a Korean teenager (Justin Chon), whose father brought the family to America for more opportunities, but instead he joins a gang. At some point, there's a murder.

All of these threads weave in and around one another, but in ways that draw attention to the stretches of logic, contrivances and coincidences. The car crash is probably the movie's biggest stretch, but also, would a shy high schooler really give a paper on 9/11 terrorists without knowing what kind of reaction it would elicit? As for the rest, poor Ashely Judd's Denise Frankel comes off the worst, constantly having to gargle mouthfuls of legal jargon without ever forming any kind of character. These characters never get a breath of air to come to life; every second of the screenplay is spent preaching and mulling over politics and social conditions. Kramer never tells us who these people actually are outside of defining them by their immigration status. Crossing Over is about as airless and preachy as movies come.

Some reviewers have given Wayne Kramer a pass since he comes from South Africa and presumably knows something about this subject. But presenting information and making a movie -- a work of art -- are two different things. (See Tommy Lee Jones's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada or Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation for two good examples.) No, to swallow this stuff I need to know something about Kramer as an artist. I need to know that he has put his heart and soul on the line. I need to know who he is, rather than what he thinks. But from frame one to the final crawl, it feels like a premeditated product of the brain, an off-putting rant. To go one further, if we look at Kramer's last feature film, things start to turn even sourer. Running Scared was one of the vilest, most inept and heartless excuses for an action movie I've ever seen.

I admit that I saw Running Scared very soon after I became a new father; I was sleep-deprived and the images of children in danger seriously alarmed me. But that aside, comparing the two movies -- Running Scared with its jerky action and cruel attitude, and Crossing Over with its slow, somber pace and humanitarian tendencies -- reveals a huge hypocrisy. It shows a calculating filmmaker who panders to whatever audience he thinks he's going to get; it shows little moral center, and worst of all it shows a complete lack of personality; he deliberately hides his personality for fear it will get in the way of his salesmanship. The only solace is that, while Running Scared somehow found an audience, Crossing Over already seems to be circling the drain.

One thing saves Crossing Over from worthlessness, and that's Harrison Ford. Somehow, in the middle of all this rubbish, he snatches a few luxurious pauses, a few moments outside the ever-moving plot, to let us know just who this guy Max Brogan is. Ford is still at the mercy of a bad script, but Max comes across as a very appealing guy, slightly bedraggled, weary, and emotionally aching from years of this sad, sorry job. (I've always thought that Ford would make a wonderful Philip Marlowe, and he comes close to that here.) Every so often he just lets out a sigh that says more than any of Kramer's dialogue ever could.