The Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby takes the helm of his own project in Crash, an ensemble study of race relations in Los Angeles, which uses the city's daily preponderance of motor-vehicle collisions as a central metaphor. The film recalls the work of Robert Altman (Short Cuts) and Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon) in its attempt to interweave different segments of the city's socioeconomic and ethnic landscape, but uses a blunter hammer stroke to drive home its points. The film's many supporters led to surprising Oscars for best picture, screenplay and editing, as well as a 55-million-dollar box-office take. While some viewers were undoubtedly drawn to the unfiltered language and uncompromising intensity with which racism is depicted, others found that the film veers into contrived territory. As the characters are more often symbolic types than fleshed-out individuals, they butt up against each other according to what will create maximum incendiary dialogue and the potential for explosive conflict. Whether it's Dillon spewing anti-affirmative-action rage, Sandra Bullock spraying racial epithets in as many directions as a lawn sprinkler, or an Iranian business owner and a Latino locksmith using their mutual preconceived notions to block off communication, most of the scenes play out at the highest possible emotional pitch, with mixed results. While a number of scenes work well individually -- most notably Dillon's creepy frisking of Thandie Newton -- their coincidental interconnectedness undermines them enough to seem gimmicky. Even if some viewers found the material preachy, there's no denying that Crash reached a wide audience, its fans identifying a forthright frankness on race relations that they hadn't seen since Do the Right Thing.