David Cronenberg gives ‘car porn’ a whole new meaning in this serious sick joke psychological chiller. Not to be confused with the award-bait pretentions of Paul Haggis’s CRASH of 2004, it has more in common with something like FIGHT CLUB/’99: secret society addicted to masochistic violence, but pan-sexual rather than onanistic. Equating sex & violence is common enough, but where others might use a car crash as sex metaphor or substitute, Cronenberg proffers it as foreplay to ‘the act.’ James Spader, whose filmmaker is introduced shooting a soft-core sex scene, is recovering from a serious car accident when he’s hit on by crash-junkie Elias Koteas. Turned on to an underground cult of the walking wounded, Spader joins in the hunt for the next thrill-crash and sexual-release. The film hits its peak recreating James Dean’s fatal wreck using mock-up vehicles for unprotected stunt collisions. But then goes from weird to merely voyeuristic in a front-seat ‘sexcapade’ for Spader & a brace-supported (yet wonderfully flexible) Rosanna Arquette. Spader is fine in an impossible role, his baby-doe look playing nicely against everyone else’s rough edges. Alas, Deborah Kara Unger as his wife, is a washout, working too hard at slinky-toned glamor; and Holly Hunter’s intriguing doctor goes missing just when we need her. But if Cronenberg is unable to pull off this life-is-just-a-bowl-of-social-ennui modernist fable, it’s still a one-of-a-kind freak show.
DOUBLE-BILL: Exceptionally shot by Cronenberg regular Peter Suschitzky, the look often recalls Jean-Luc Godard’s WEEKEND/’67, another car culture critique of modern society.