Americans who gnash their teeth over what they see as the tide of street gangs, drug thugs and international terrorists pouring across the country's southwestern border are hereby advised to chill. The solution to the problem of illegal immigration is simple, if only we can overcome a general lack of national niceness and open ourselves up to the healing power of hugs.

Such, anyway, is the message of the new movie "Crossing Over," in which illegal immigrants are seen to be, not scheming outlanders looking to game the system in order to get into the country by any means necessary, but instead an under-the-radar community of hardworking cabbies, cute-as-a-button kids and, in the picture's most alarming instance, a beautiful Australian TV actress yearning to be free (and famous). The movie is a shameless onslaught of special pleading, even more overdetermined than the similarly fatuous Mexican section of "Babel," and the fact that it was shot nearly two years ago but is only now being ushered into theaters will come as no surprise to anyone with the unlikely determination to sit through it.

The story is the usual ensemble stew of instructive character plights. Harrison Ford, in a mode of mumbling glumness that betokens a star being shoehorned into a part that's well outside his natural range, plays Max Brogan, a Los Angeles-based Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. Max and his partner, a naturalized Iranian immigrant named Hamid (brooding Cliff Curtis) spend their days rousting illegal immigrants out of local factories and dispatching them back across the border. Max is burned out on this endless exercise, and he frets about the people he's uprooting — the old man with the heart condition, the pleading young Mexican woman (Alice Braga) who's being loaded onto a bus for a one-way trip to San Diego while her little boy waits for her at home, alone.

Meanwhile, a militant Muslim girl named Taslima (Summer Bishil, of "Towelhead"), who has lived in the U.S. with her illegal-immigrant Bangladeshi parents since she was three years old, has drawn the disapproving attention of the FBI after reading an essay in a high school class urging sympathetic understanding of the 9/11 hijackers. ("I thought there was something called free speech," she tells the Feds — who apparently think there's also something called legal residence.) Taslima is being defended by Denise Frankel (Ashley Judd), a warm-hearted immigration attorney who, oddly and in fact unbelievably, is married to the scummy Cole Frankel (Ray Liotta), whose government job approving green cards for aspiring immigrants allows him to extort sex from the delectably desperate Australian actress, Claire (Alice Eve). Claire, in turn, is withholding sex from her English boyfriend, Gavin (Jim Sturgess), a musician whose heartbreaking lot it is, as another illegal immigrant, to find only fitful employment in the L.A. indie-rock scene. Determined to score a green card, Gavin has suddenly discovered his Jewish roots and is attempting to gain entry as a "religious worker," despite the fact that he can't speak Hebrew. (This is not a role that the emphatically goyish Sturgess was born to play.)

The large contribution made by enterprising immigrants in building this country is well-known; and the fact that many such people are today being chewed up and spit out by the immigration system is no longer news — it's a torturous problem that cries out for a solution. This picture's South African director, Wayne Kramer, a naturalized U.S. citizen himself, is no doubt well-intentioned. But to suggest, as his movie does, that good people are the only ones being denied residence in a nation that admits more legal immigrants than any other country in the world subverts the film's goal — who will be swayed by a movie with such a cockeyed premise? "Crossing Over" is also mopily paced, and hobbled by clanky dialogue ("You doubt the veracity of my heart") and wildly implausible situations. (The scene set in the bloody wreckage of a convenience-store robbery, in which an ICE agent gives a pass to a gun-wielding kid because tomorrow is the day he's due to be naturalized, elicited hoots of derision at the screening I attended.) Meanwhile, the long and seemingly insoluble immigration crisis continues.

Check out everything we've got on "Crossing Over."

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