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‘Crossing Guard’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 01, 1995


Sean Penn
Jack Nicholson;
Angelica Huston;
David Morse;
Robin Wright;
Robbie Robertson
sexual situations, nudity, profanity and violence

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At the heart of "The Crossing Guard" is a provocative idea. A 7-year-old is killed in a drunk-driving accident. The tragedy pushes her parents (Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston) into divorce. When John Booth (David Morse), the driver, is released from prison five years later, Freddy, the bereaved father, loads his gun for revenge.

Unfortunately, "The Crossing Guard," which marks Sean Penn's second directorial effort (after "The Indian Runner"), never makes good on its premise. Penn, who also wrote the script, burdens the story with so many self-indulgent side developments that he loses emotional drive and Freddy's desperate obsession gets lost in the shuffle.

Freddy, a tortured man who spends his nights leering at, then bedding dancers from the local strip club, has been counting the days until this encounter. Ignoring his ex-wife Mary's entreaties, Freddy stalks Booth, bursts into his bedroom, and finds himself facing his nemesis with a gun that doesn't work.

Freddy is utterly humiliated. (In movie symbolism, anyone whose gun fails to go off has a manhood problem.) Booth, acutely sensitive to Freddy's pain, begs him to take three days to reconsider his murderous impulses.

Prepare for the longest 72 hours of your moviegoing life, as Freddy slinks off for an extended bout of soul searching, showgirl ogling and more vindictive bickering with his ex-wife. (Actually, given the real-life estrangement between former lovers Nicholson and Huston, the latter activity is about the only truly interesting element in the movie.)

Booth has his time-wasting work cut out for him, too. While agonizing over the pain he's responsible for, he attends a homecoming party, rides the bus, strikes up a quickie romance with painter JoJo (Robin Wright) and gets a job on a boat.

These and other interludes bring nothing to the story but film footage. Penn compulsively fills the movie with cliched, lyrical passages and other directorial pretensions. Dancers undulate in slow motion under smoky lights. Freddy watches as a young girl runs towards her father, arms outstretched—in slow motion, of course. JoJo grooves dorkily to a boom-box slow-rap tune, presumably to demonstrate her life-affirming qualities to Booth. And by the time Freddy chases Booth by bus and on foot, in the overwrought finale, we've lost all interest in the outcome.

THE CROSSING GUARD (R) — Contains sexual situations, nudity, profanity and violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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