Going Out Looney: Other WarnerMedia Properties That Could’ve Been in “Space Jam: A New Legacy”

“Never reference a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” – Tom Servo, Experiment 822: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Space Jam: A New Legacy was released this month. It’s by far the worst movie I’ve seen in 2021 and may be one of the worst ever.

I, like many people, saw the original when I was a child. It’s not a masterpiece but it was at least charming and had emotional stakes for its characters. Additionally, there was no padding. It was a tight 90 minutes and made actual jokes.  

But A New Legacy is nothing but a commercial for WarnerMedia and its intellectual properties, including properties that no child would be familiar with. Now, it’s possible for a family friendly property to effectively spoof adult media. But Space Jam doesn’t even make jokes about these franchises. The filmmakers take footage from the original (like the “Play it Sam” scene from Casablanca) and awkwardly rotoscope a toon into the scene. Is watching Granny do the exact same thing Trinity did in the first Matrix movie funny? By itself, the idea could be made funny, but simply copy/pasting over a character is lazy.

Why take this approach? As far as I can tell, this movie only exists to promote what WarnerMedia owns and to promote its streaming service that hosts these properties. But, as I watched the movie and saw the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange (as in, characters who thought raping, stealing, and murdering people was a fun night on the town – the perfect characters to reference in a family film) and one of the nuns from Ken Russel’s The Devils (I seriously have no words for this one), I realized WarnerMedia really could have gone much further.

And I say, why not? Let’s put Looney Tunes in even more WarnerMedia properties. We have a lot of classic franchises and intellectual property in the Warner vaults. Let’s look at some of the properties Space Jam excluded and how they could have been incorporated into the final film.

Dirty HarryThis extraordinarily successful franchise has been dormant since the last entry was released in 1988 (a planned 2007 video game was cancelled) yet remains one of the most influential action series of all time. It’s influenced everyone from director John Woo to famed comic book writer Frank Miller. Even Jackie Chan played a version of the titular Harry Callahan in The Protector. And yet, in this massive WarnerMedia IP dump, Dirty Harry is nowhere to be seen.

I don’t know why. The first film’s rather cartoonish examination of good versus evil would fit right into the Looney Tunes canon. I would have redone the bank robbery and the ”Do you feel lucky” speech with Yosemite Sam replacing the injured robber. “Well, consarn it varmint, now I gots to know!” Sure, it’s not exactly a joke, but that’s par for course with A New Legacy.

Eyes Wide ShutCertain people made a big stink (pun intended) when Pepe Lepew was cut from the movie. I wasn’t one of them. He’d always been a one joke character who, even as a kid, seemed utterly clueless about how people perceived him. Besides, it was weird to me that, when the shoe was on the other foot, Lepew was as desperate as his victims to remove himself from the situation. Shouldn’t he be glad that half-drowned cat he’d been chasing for six minutes finally wanted him?

So the filmmakers had a point in excluding the character. Lepew’s schtick, these days, is a misogynistic farce and his inability to take “no” for an answer isn’t funny. But there are ways to get around that with WarnerMedia property, and I believe I’ve found it – make him Red Cloak from Eyes Wide Shut.

Have Lepew confront Tom Cruise in that horrible French accent and demand the password to the house. Maybe he wouldn’t have joined in the final game, but the pairing still makes sense to me. Eyes Wide Shut is about a man shocked and frustrated to find out his wife has her own sexual desires beyond him. He thus tries to live out his own fantasies and is scared of what he finds.

In other words, it’s the perfect place to insert the infamously horny Pepe Lepew.

The Wire – One thing that surprised me about A New Legacy was its underutilization of WarnerMedia’s television properties. There’s a scene from Game of Thrones, sure, but nothing from any of the other HBO properties or even the Turner cable stations.

This is an odd decision because the film was released on their HBO branded platform and those series are some of the most critically acclaimed of all time. Look at The Sopranos or Chernobyl or even Deadwood, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The latter is a particularly weird omission because, in that show, Larry David portrays himself as a toon going through a massive midlife crisis.

But that’s not even the biggest missed opportunity in the movie. The Wire has become one of the most revered television shows in history since its debut. Even President Obama named it as one of his favorites.

It’s the perfect IP for WarnerMedia to promote, but they didn’t even bother referencing it here. One of the most iconic characters in television history was ignored. I am, of course, referring to the legendary Omar Little.

Replace Omar with Elmer Fudd. Both whistle “A-Hunting We Will Go” to themselves and are barely seen without a firearm. Both are seeking something to kill, no matter the moral questions it raises. The more I think about it, the more I think the latter would work comedically even if they don’t rewrite the scripts. Can you imagine characters from The Wire yelling, “Elmer comin!” It’s frankly better than what we got in the final movie.  

Six Feet Under – I’m not as familiar with Six Feet Under except for its classic finale, but if your goal is to advertise classic WarnerMedia properties, it’s something that you should mention.

That finale has been spoofed many times and is an obvious candidate for parody in Space Jam. Is it too grim? Perhaps. The pondering of one’s mortality is an abstract concept the average six-year-old wouldn’t get, anyway. But Pennywise is terrifying to children but he’s watching the climatic basketball game at the end.

I’m thinking, instead of another Matrix spoof, stick Granny in that finale. We see a young version of her driving a car, flashes of the other characters, and it ends with her on her death bed – cataracts included.

It would have struck the same note as spoofing Casablanca’s most famous scene to me – taking a legendary scene and unnecessarily polluting it. Now, Six Feet Under isn’t as good as Casablanca – few things are – but Space Jam doesn’t care about quality. Every single IP is treated equally in this movie. Austin Powers exists on the same level as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s all about reminding people this thing you remember still exists. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th

There are zero references to Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger in this movie. Considering the fame of these characters – not to mention the fact that equivalent shows like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs both spoofed these characters back in the day – I’m shocked.

Even New Nightmare compares Freddy to Santa Claus. They’re just characters that are absorbed into people’s minds, whether they’ve seen the movies or not. Plus, for now, most of the Nightmare movies are on HBO Max. (The rights to the Friday the 13th franchise are infamously convoluted, as of this writing, only three of those films are on the service.)

However, this is one example where I don’t believe a separate sketch would be appropriate. But the fact they weren’t even watching the final basketball game surprises me. That would have been the perfect background cameo. I would have loved to hear Freddy mock the Looney Tunes during the game and even joining in to make a joke against the Toon Squad.

Perhaps Voorhees could have been the one to remove Freddie from the court? Why not? Freddy vs Jason is a popular entry into both franchises and seeing them together again would certainly get a certain segment of their audience excited.

Besides, compared to some of the characters they did include, Freddy and Jason are far more recognizable to kids and Daenerys Targaryen. This whole thing is a Warner’s commercial, so why not?

Magic Mike – Yes, WarnerMedia owns Magic Mike. And, considering how rife for satire that franchise is, I’m legitimately surprised they didn’t reference this one in Space Jam.

For people who’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, Magic Mike is about male exotic dancers. There is nothing inherently wrong with that plot – and I’ve personally never watched the movie – but the concept is seemingly funny to a lot of people. Especially after the release of the first film, bad comedians used its existence as a punchline to…prove they liked women, and thus didn’t want to see a shirtless Channing Tatum?

That’s beside the point. The point is inserting a Looney Toon into the proceedings would at least be visually funny. The more the character leans into the setting, the funnier it gets.

What if Foghorn Leghorn was one of the dancers? What about Porky Pig? What about Beaky Buzzard, who’s too shy to go out and perform?

That last idea would have some comedic value. He’s forced to go out and can barely move due to his anxiety, but the crowd still loves it. At least it would be an amusing reference no matter what the creators did. Again, it’s not for kids but when characters from The Godfather show up, no one should expect family friendly material throughout.

Going out Looney: Other WarnerMedia Properties that could have been in Space Jam: A New Legacy

“Never reference a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” – Tom Servo, Experiment 822: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Space Jam: A New Legacy was released this month. It’s by far the worst movie I’ve seen in 2021 and may be one of the worst ever.

I, like many people, saw the original when I was a child. It’s not a masterpiece but it was at least charming and had emotional stakes for its characters. Additionally, there was no padding. It was a tight 90 minutes and made actual jokes.  

But A New Legacy is nothing but a commercial for WarnerMedia and its intellectual properties, including properties that no child would be familiar with. Now, it’s possible for a family friendly property to effectively spoof adult media. But Space Jam doesn’t even make jokes about these franchises. The filmmakers take footage from the original (like the “Play it Sam” scene from Casablanca) and awkwardly rotoscope a toon into the scene. Is watching Granny do the exact same thing Trinity did in the first Matrix movie funny? By itself, the idea could be made funny, but simply copy/pasting over a character is lazy.

Why take this approach? As far as I can tell, this movie only exists to promote what WarnerMedia owns and to promote its streaming service that hosts these properties. But, as I watched the movie and saw the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange (as in, characters who thought raping, stealing, and murdering people was a fun night on the town – the perfect characters to reference in a family film) and one of the nuns from Ken Russel’s The Devils (I seriously have no words for this one), I realized WarnerMedia really could have gone much further.

And I say, why not? Let’s put Looney Tunes in even more WarnerMedia properties. We have a lot of classic franchises and intellectual property in the Warner vaults. Let’s look at some of the properties Space Jam excluded and how they could have been incorporated into the final film.

Dirty HarryThis extraordinarily successful franchise has been dormant since the last entry was released in 1988 (a planned 2007 video game was cancelled) yet remains one of the most influential action series of all time. It’s influenced everyone from director John Woo to famed comic book writer Frank Miller. Even Jackie Chan played a version of the titular Harry Callahan in The Protector. And yet, in this massive WarnerMedia IP dump, Dirty Harry is nowhere to be seen.

I don’t know why. The first film’s rather cartoonish examination of good versus evil would fit right into the Looney Tunes canon. I would have redone the bank robbery and the ”Do you feel lucky” speech with Yosemite Sam replacing the injured robber. “Well, consarn it varmint, now I gots to know!” Sure, it’s not exactly a joke, but that’s par for course with A New Legacy.

Eyes Wide ShutCertain people made a big stink (pun intended) when Pepe Lepew was cut from the movie. I wasn’t one of them. He’d always been a one joke character who, even as a kid, seemed utterly clueless about how people perceived him. Besides, it was weird to me that, when the shoe was on the other foot, Lepew was as desperate as his victims to remove himself from the situation. Shouldn’t he be glad that half-drowned cat he’d been chasing for six minutes finally wanted him?

So the filmmakers had a point in excluding the character. Lepew’s schtick, these days, is a misogynistic farce and his inability to take “no” for an answer isn’t funny. But there are ways to get around that with WarnerMedia property, and I believe I’ve found it – make him Red Cloak from Eyes Wide Shut.

Have Lepew confront Tom Cruise in that horrible French accent and demand the password to the house. Maybe he wouldn’t have joined in the final game, but the pairing still makes sense to me. Eyes Wide Shut is about a man shocked and frustrated to find out his wife has her own sexual desires beyond him. He thus tries to live out his own fantasies and is scared of what he finds.

In other words, it’s the perfect place to insert the infamously horny Pepe Lepew.

The Wire – One thing that surprised me about A New Legacy was its underutilization of WarnerMedia’s television properties. There’s a scene from Game of Thrones, sure, but nothing from any of the other HBO properties or even the Turner cable stations.

This is an odd decision because the film was released on their HBO branded platform and those series are some of the most critically acclaimed of all time. Look at The Sopranos or Chernobyl or even Deadwood, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The latter is a particularly weird omission because, in that show, Larry David portrays himself as a toon going through a massive midlife crisis.

But that’s not even the biggest missed opportunity in the movie. The Wire has become one of the most revered television shows in history since its debut. Even President Obama named it as one of his favorites.

It’s the perfect IP for WarnerMedia to promote, but they didn’t even bother referencing it here. One of the most iconic characters in television history was ignored. I am, of course, referring to the legendary Omar Little.

Replace Omar with Elmer Fudd. Both whistle “A-Hunting We Will Go” to themselves and are barely seen without a firearm. Both are seeking something to kill, no matter the moral questions it raises. The more I think about it, the more I think the latter would work comedically even if they don’t rewrite the scripts. Can you imagine characters from The Wire yelling, “Elmer comin!” It’s frankly better than what we got in the final movie.  

Six Feet Under – I’m not as familiar with Six Feet Under except for its classic finale, but if your goal is to advertise classic WarnerMedia properties, it’s something that you should mention.

That finale has been spoofed many times and is an obvious candidate for parody in Space Jam. Is it too grim? Perhaps. The pondering of one’s mortality is an abstract concept the average six-year-old wouldn’t get, anyway. But Pennywise is terrifying to children but he’s watching the climatic basketball game at the end.

I’m thinking, instead of another Matrix spoof, stick Granny in that finale. We see a young version of her driving a car, flashes of the other characters, and it ends with her on her death bed – cataracts included.

It would have struck the same note as spoofing Casablanca’s most famous scene to me – taking a legendary scene and unnecessarily polluting it. Now, Six Feet Under isn’t as good as Casablanca – few things are – but Space Jam doesn’t care about quality. Every single IP is treated equally in this movie. Austin Powers exists on the same level as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s all about reminding people this thing you remember still exists. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th

There are zero references to Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger in this movie. Considering the fame of these characters – not to mention the fact that equivalent shows like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs both spoofed these characters back in the day – I’m shocked.

Even New Nightmare compares Freddy to Santa Claus. They’re just characters that are absorbed into people’s minds, whether they’ve seen the movies or not. Plus, for now, most of the Nightmare movies are on HBO Max. (The rights to the Friday the 13th franchise are infamously convoluted, as of this writing, only three of those films are on the service.)

However, this is one example where I don’t believe a separate sketch would be appropriate. But the fact they weren’t even watching the final basketball game surprises me. That would have been the perfect background cameo. I would have loved to hear Freddy mock the Looney Tunes during the game and even joining in to make a joke against the Toon Squad.

Perhaps Voorhees could have been the one to remove Freddie from the court? Why not? Freddy vs Jason is a popular entry into both franchises and seeing them together again would certainly get a certain segment of their audience excited.

Besides, compared to some of the characters they did include, Freddy and Jason are far more recognizable to kids and Daenerys Targaryen. This whole thing is a Warner’s commercial, so why not?

Magic Mike – Yes, WarnerMedia owns Magic Mike. And, considering how rife for satire that franchise is, I’m legitimately surprised they didn’t reference this one in Space Jam.

For people who’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, Magic Mike is about male exotic dancers. There is nothing inherently wrong with that plot – and I’ve personally never watched the movie – but the concept is seemingly funny to a lot of people. Especially after the release of the first film, bad comedians used its existence as a punchline to…prove they liked women, and thus didn’t want to see a shirtless Channing Tatum?

That’s beside the point. The point is inserting a Looney Toon into the proceedings would at least be visually funny. The more the character leans into the setting, the funnier it gets.

What if Foghorn Leghorn was one of the dancers? What about Porky Pig? What about Beaky Buzzard, who’s too shy to go out and perform?

That last idea would have some comedic value. He’s forced to go out and can barely move due to his anxiety, but the crowd still loves it. At least it would be an amusing reference no matter what the creators did. Again, it’s not for kids but when characters from The Godfather show up, no one should expect family friendly material throughout.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Ninety-Three

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Ninety Three

The boys are doing their thing after another minor hiatus – but one which has a fun story behind it, which you will hear on this episode.  Remaining in the light-hearted/improvisational vein, there really aren’t set talking points, since Jon and Rob are catching up and you’re getting to listen in to their conversation!

This is why everyone loves Radio City…  it’s the warmth of two friends letting everyone in on what they’re about and thinking of.  All done with a laugh and a lot of heart.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Ninety Three

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

The Worst of the Best: “How Green Was My Valley”

This month on “The Worst of the Best,” I’m taking a slightly different route than I usually take. 1941’s Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley doesn’t have a bad reputation. In fact, it has a lot of defenders. But it’s seemingly fallen out of style and never gets mentioned as one of the all-time greats. And those who have know it for its infamy in how it won Best Picture over Citizen Kane.

The politics of the time made this decision understandable. Kane was seen as an insult to the still very much alive William Randolph Hearst, who forbade any mention of it in any of his newspapers. It was booed at the Academy Awards ceremony and wasn’t a box office smash. How Green Was My Valley, directed by the already legendary John Ford, was a much safer pick than the revolutionary Kane.

Still, time has not been kind to the decision. People are still watching and analyzing Welles’ masterpiece. Just last year, there was a movie about the writing of the script that was nominated for Oscars. But How Green Was My Valley? Well, no one seems to be rushing to make any movies about that.

None of this means How Green Was My Valley is bad by any means. It’s a fine film that serves as an interesting companion piece to Ford’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. But Ford definitely made better films in his career and it’s little wonder no one remembers this as much as Stagecoach, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

The film follows Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowell as a child, Irving Pichel as the adult Huw who narrates the story) as he reminisces on his childhood with his Welsh coal mining family. He navigates the story of his older brother’s marriage, his sister’s infatuation with the town’s new preacher, the tension between his father and brothers over starting a labor union, and his being the first in his family to ever have proper schooling. He also deals with family tragedies related to his family’s lives as coal miners.

As I said before, there are a lot themes in How Green Was My Valley that make it almost a spiritual sequel to Ford’s film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Due to ratings standards of the time, the Wrath adaptation was never going to be able to capture the bleakest moments of the novel. But it still captures the stark reality of poor migrant famers during the Great Depression with multiple tragedies striking the Joads. Valley was also based on a novel (which I haven’t read) and, unlike John Steinbeck, author Richard Llewellyn based his book on his personal experience. It should create a more harrowing portrait of working-class life than what Steinbeck put to paper.

But, while the family dynamics are remarkably interesting, the characters in Valley don’t feel nearly as compelling as anyone in the Joad family. There are some great moments – like when the patriarch Gwilym Morgan (Donald Crisp) kicks his older sons out of his house after they talk about forming a labor union for the miners or when his wife, Beth, threatens to kill any striking miner who threatens Gwilym. But life is comparatively better and more idyllic than anything the Joads ever had. The characters even break out into Welsh folk songs throughout the movie. I can’t even begin to imagine anyone in the Grapes of Wrath singing with joy.

Of course, by the time Valley was released, the Great Depression was receding, and audiences were focusing on the growing threat of another World War. It’s understandable John Ford would want to pivot away from the themes of Wrath and look at something more hopeful. And this movie does predict the popular community efforts that sprang up during WWII, such as the scene where the townspeople come to see Beth after she and Huw fell into a frozen river. (Huw briefly loses his ability to walk.) Even the preacher in this film – Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) – is far more optimistic than Jim Casy in Wrath. During Huw’s convalescence, Gruffydd encourages him to maintain his faith and trust in God to heal him. This leads to a scene of Huw walking with the preacher to pick daffodils. It’s heartwarming but also reflects the tone shift happening in Hollywood at the time.

Gruffydd’s only flaw seems to be his mutual attraction to Huw’s sister Angharad (frequent Ford collaborator Maureen O’Hara) and how they can’t have a relationship because the son of the mine owner wishes to marry her. The two actors have notable chemistry but, in terms of everything else that’s happening in the film (such as the aforementioned strike that leads to the town suffering from poverty and people turning against each other), it feels melodramatic and unnecessary to what the film wanted to say about the Morgans.

The best part of the film is Huw’s story. The narration style is very reminiscent of what Stanley Kubrick would later use, particularly in Barry Lyndon.  The narrator introduces a character, we get a few lines of dialogue, and then onto the next scene. It sounds corny, but Ford is able to make this strategy work as a way of introducing the characters. Plus, it makes the film feel like a memory.

I also like Roddy McDowell’s performance as the young Huw. He’s very effective as the youngest child in a working class family that’s positioned to ensure the next generation is better than the current one. It’s also obvious why he chooses to work in the coal mine even after he goes to school. And I even came to understand why he felt so nostalgic for this past, no matter what he encountered.

But the film lacks the gravitas and prestige that are normally associated with Best Picture winners. It certainly wasn’t the most revolutionary film of the year. Ford had already made this movie the previous year and was rewarded for it. Why bother with this material? And Citizen Kane, even if you ignore its technical revolutions, is a far more interesting analysis of the complexity of people. Charles Foster Kane remains one of the greatest film characters ever.  Huw and the rest of the Morgans are certainly effective – particularly during the family conflicts – but it’s meaningless compared to Kane’s destruction of the American upper class.

How Green Was My Valley is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. John Ford was a master director and even Orson Welles sought to copy his early films when he made Citizen Kane. But Valley isn’t one of Ford’s best films, much less the best film of 1941. If you’re a fan of classic Hollywood, you’ll probably enjoy this. But then you’ll also likely want to watch one of John Ford’s westerns instead.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Ninety-Two

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Ninety Two

As they’ve been on a roll lately, Jon and Rob continue to try to keep the spirits lighter.  Aside from topical conversation, the boys take the light-hearted approach in a (successful) effort to keep the balance – listen in as Rob does an on-air “intervention” on Jon and his guitar “habit” – plus the usual, natural laughs and rational views on the world around us.

It only gets better with Jon and Rob with each episode.  And with this latest installment, you’ll know why.  So listen in and enjoy!:

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Ninety Two

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

The Worst of the Best: “Crash”

The Worst of the Best re-examines the most unpopular Best Picture winners to see if they have any merit and determine why they won the top prize.  

It’s difficult to think of a worse year at the Oscars in my lifetime than the 2006 ceremony. Despite the legendary Jon Stewart acting as the host, the awards were completely sterile. There was no coronation for an exciting new talent, there was no legend finally getting their due (barring Robert Altman’s honorary Oscar) and none of the nominated pictures had any lasting impact.

Be honest – when was the last time you thought about Good Night and Good Luck? Or Munich? They’re good films but they’re not the sort of films that go on to change the medium.

There remains a pall hanging over the awards that has not subsided. The controversy has become almost as famous as the films involved. Against all odds, Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture.

I personally am not a fan of Brokeback Mountain. I thought it was a boring slog that was not nearly as clever or insightful as it thought it was. But compared to Crash, Brokeback Mountain is a John Ford masterpiece. Even at the time, critics didn’t embrace Crash. (Roger Ebert notwithstanding.) They liked it – it has a 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes – but the positive reviews couldn’t help but point out the movie’s flaws. Besides, a 74 percent score for a Best Picture winner is dismal. 2019’s Best Picture Parasite was a 99 percent score. Even on the surface, Crash lacks the gravitas that comes with the top prize.

And its reputation has not improved with time. It frequently tops polls as the “worst” Best Picture winner and even writer/director Paul Haggis said his movie didn’t deserve to win. There was a TV spin-off on STARZ that lasted two seasons, but Crash didn’t lead to a movement of socially conscious films about race relations in the United States. Today, Paul Haggis is more famous for his public break with the Church of Scientology over their refusal to support gay marriage than for his filmmaking career.

But even if Crash is a controversial Best Picture winner, is it a bad film? Does it have any redeeming merits? I’ve seen multiple Best Picture nominations and Best Picture winners that I don’t like. But they have some merit.

I’ll go ahead and spoil it – yes, Crash is utter dreck. It feels like an amateurish copy of better films. Its message is not original and the script mirrors scripts written by film students at UCLA. I have no doubt Haggis sincerely believed in the anti-prejudice message of the film. But he couldn’t translate that belief into a great script. I walked away from this movie feeling like I had nothing to examine about my views of the world.

For a socially conscious movie, that’s a death sentence.


I could compare Crash to movies like Robert Altman’s classic Short Cuts and, especially, Spike Lee’s legendary Do the Right Thing. But honestly, it doesn’t feel right to even mention Crash in the same breath as the other two.

Instead, I think there’s more contemporary example that illustrates Crash’s failure. Do you remember in 2017 when The New York Times wrote a profile of a young neoNazi living in Ohio? And the whole point the article seemed to be making was that this young man really wasn’t all that different from anyone else, with his wife, his love of Applebee’s food, and his enjoyment of the TV shows Twin Peaks and (ironically) Seinfeld? And then people rightfully condemned the story, pointing out that trying to normalize this hate or make those that espouse it seem more sympathetic is the exact opposite of what we should be doing and the fact that such hate can be so normal on its surface is what the actual problem is?

Crash is the cinematic equivalent of that article. It seeks to examine race relations by showing how, beneath the surface, those who would look down on black people and those who would accuse Hispanics or being thieves are really just suffering from a bad day and are actually very sympathetic.

That’s not the story that needs to be told. Additionally, this approach doesn’t work because none of the characters are complex. They all exist for one reason – to endlessly reinforce the point Haggis thought he was making.

I mentioned Do The Right Thing because that is the sort of template socially conscious movies need to follow. For one, we learn about the characters and what drives them. Do you remember the scene where Mookie makes love to his girlfriend, asking God to bless every part of her body? That scene doesn’t exist to forward Lee’s message. What it does is paints Mookie as a complete human. He’s not just a pizza delivery man who is growing increasingly frustrated by his out of touch boss. He has a child. He has a partner. He loves them. His actions at the end do not just have an affect on Sal and the people in his neighborhood. He’s burning down his source of income that he used to take care of his family.

For another, Do The Right Thing built to something. It doesn’t start addressing racism right out of the gate. When Sal starts using the n-word as he is destroying Radio Raheem’s boom box, we’re shocked and upset. This is the same man who, earlier in the day, was talking about how much he loves his neighborhood and how he watched its children grow up. But even Sal is blinded by his own prejudices.

Crash doesn’t have anything like that. Every single person in this movie is obsessed with one thing and one thing only – their prejudices. Literally four minutes into the film we get a white character mocking an Asian woman’s accent. At five minutes we have someone exclaiming how “shocked” they are to have been hit by an Asian driver. And the film just keeps going in that direction. We see an Iranian family buying a gun and having the gun store owner mocking him and saying he was involved in 9/11. Don Cheadle angers his sex partner by taking a phone call from his mom and telling her he had to go because “he was having sex with a white woman.” Ludacris’ character only exists to spout off ridiculous theories about how everything is designed to oppress black people. Now, the institutionalized racism in this country is a gigantic wound that has barely begun to heal. But when I say Ludacris’ ideas are…ludicrous, I mean there is a monologue devoted to how hip-hop music is designed to prevent black people from forming complex opinions.

So, Tupac, N.W.A, and Public Enemy don’t exist in the world of Crash? What about Saul Williams? Andre 3000? What gave Ludacris his ideas? The movie never says.

Because the movie starts out with these characters and constantly reveals the one thing on their mind, there’s nothing to build to. Yes, we do learn a little more about them in the screenplay’s desperate attempt to make them seem human – like revealing Matt Dillon’s racist cop is stressed from dealing with his sick father – but again, that doesn’t excuse his behavior (including sexually assaulting a woman in broad daylight) nor does it provide his character an arc. By the end we’re seeing the various characters reach a breaking point, but that’s the only place the movie could go. Ryan Phillipe shoots an unarmed black man, Don Cheadle’s mother blames him for his brother’s death, the Iranian store owner tries to murder Michael Pena’s locksmith character – only for Pena’s daughter to nearly lose her life instead. (The bullets were blanks that he had inadvertently purchased – although how he manages to escape arrest is something the movie doesn’t explain.)  

These scenes don’t have any emotional impact because it was obvious the script was building to this ending. It announces its intentions too early. Besides, what does it all mean? What am I supposed to do with this? Am I supposed to be surprised that racism exists and is deeply rooted in people’s minds? I’m not. Does this movie offer any solutions or ways that I can look at situations differently and confront my own prejudices? No.

Crash feels like a script written by a 20-year-old at Sundance who believes that, because their movie is socially conscious, it is automatically good. But just because you have good content doesn’t mean your movies . I would think Paul Haggis should know better. Not only has he written some good movies (Casino Royale and Letters from Iwo Jima), he’s personally stood up against a prejudiced organization and paid a hefty price for doing so. Why he felt this movie was an acceptable way to discuss prejudice is something I don’t know. Maybe I was expecting too much out of the guy who created Walker, Texas Ranger.


So, what did AMPAS love about Crash?

The traditional view is Brokeback Mountain was to controversial a pick and Crash was an easy way out to cater to the progressives in Hollywood while not alienating anyone.

I don’t believe it’s that simple. If that was the case, then it would have been far easier to not nominate Brokeback Mountain at all. Yet not only was it nominated, it won some of the top prizes that night, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. And today, AMPAS has demonstrated it does not care what the more conservative portion of the public wants. In an era of travel bans and neo-Nazis marching in public, they selected the first ever foreign language film as Best Picture.

Instead, I believe I found the answer in Ebert’s review. Ebert was infatuated with the movie and the last paragraph is something that resonated with AMPAS. Ebert called Crash a “movie about progress,” pointing out that a city like Los Angeles would not have existed centuries ago and no one ever met anyone else outside of their race. Even if people are prejudiced, at least they’re interacting with people from different backgrounds.

So, to the voters, the movie helped make LA look good and showed why its residents, even with their flaws, were ultimately BETTER than everyone else. And Hollywood loves nothing more than itself. So, from that point of view, a win for Crash was really a “win” for the home team. Shame the win was such a pyrrhic victory.  

There’s really nothing else to say about Crash. AMPAS made a mistake and that’s all there is to it. Unfortunately, it was neither the first nor the last mistake they’ve made.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episodes 145, 146, 147 & 148

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episodes One Hundred Forty Five, One Hundred Forty Six, One Hundred Forty Seven and One Hundred Forty Eight

This is an unprecedented moment for Radio City…; we’re delivering four episodes, as part of what Jon and Rob deem as “Underneath The Bunker” – the shows recorded at the start of the pandemic self-quarantine/shelter-in-place edicts nationwide and continuing through the progressive weeks as things became worse. 

As you can hear, with each episode, frustration turns to anger; uncertainty becomes pain and both Jon and Rob express their feelings with a bareboned honesty even more conveyed than in previous outings.

These shows were done without talking points or pre-planned ideas; these are wholly improvised and natural – two friends sequestered in the most surreal, yet painfully realistic circumstances possible.  You may laugh; you may cry; you may become infuriated – but you’ll be on the same emotional roller coaster that Rob, Jon and everyone else is currently on.

 
If nothing else, let these two help put your minds at ease – they may not have the answers, but they’re willing to try to find something to bring comfort to all…
 
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episodes One Hundred Forty Five, One Hundred Forty Six, One Hundred Forty Seven and One Hundred Forty Eight

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.