It’s no secret that Wayne Kramer‘s Crossing Over (Weinstein Co., 2.27), which I saw last night, has had a difficult (some would say agonized) post-production history. The integrity of Kramer’s vision violated up the wazoo, all kinds of re-editing and arguing about which cut works better, Sean Penn ‘s footage being cut from the film over his discomfort with an Iranian honor-killing subplot, etc.

Generally speaking a film that goes through this much grief and second-guessing ends up feeling muddled and compromised all to hell. I’m not saying that Crossing Over is a masterwork — it’s not. It uses a familiar strategy — five or six story lines woven into a social-issue tapestry — in an attempt to be an illegal-immigrant Traffic. But it’s really Crash. To some, I realize, that might sound like a heartless thing to say, but Crossing Over isn’t half bad within the boundaries of its scheme and particularly given what Kramer had to deal with. The bruises and abrasions show, but it has a certain integrity. You can feel the efforts of a strong impassioned director trying like hell to make it work.

Crossing Over needed to be rougher and longer and less contrained. More probing and more exposition would have helped with some…okay, many of the characters. There’s an abbreviated, pruned-down feeling to the narrative, suggesting that a certain amount of nervy, rude material may have gone by the wayside.

It’s basically an in-and-out thing, but it catches a good groove about 30 minutes in and pretty much holds onto it right to the end. There are several scenes that work well, and one or two that are serious gut-slammers.

There’s a curiously touching moment when a sleazy INS officer played by Ray Liotta suddenly becomes the Heartbreak Kid — and what his character says and does is unexpected and rewarding in a roundabout way. There’s a grocery-store robbery-and-shootout scene between Cliff Curtis and a gang of Asian gang-bangers (and particularly a terrified young recruit whom Curtis faces down) that flirts with ridiculousness but is finally riveting and daring as hell.

I’m not going to say any more, but Crossing Over is by no means a wipeout. It has its moments and intrigues and curious sidelights. It just should have been longer and more wild-ass — more willing to offend. Too much second-guessing went into it, and I’m sorry for that. And I wish Penn hadn’t bailed.