The more I think about Crash, the less universal it seems. It makes sense as a point of conversation, but only if you can see through the material's weaknesses. There are all kinds of conceits required to make the movie happen. Engaging in stereotypes is an obvious one, and the onslaught of convenient coincidences is another. To an extent, those implausibilities can be glossed over in the name of making a film that speaks faithfully about race. Character implausibilities, though, cannot.
While looking over The Internets for other perspectives, one in particular struck a chord. The author of an email printed at the bottom of this column points out that the two major encounters between the police and black characters, both of which are critical to the film's structure, require decisions that a rational black person would never make. They would have to be insane to agitate the police as they do, knowing what the cops in LA are like. So what is undoubtedly a filmmaking conceit (make this event happen) seriously undermines the film's legitimacy. I think that's a fair argument to make.
I would argue, however, that those moments of character implausibility aren't limited to black characters. Take Ryan Phillippe's scene with Larenz Tate towards the end of the film... would a white person who claims to be enlightened judge a black stranger, in his face, as Phillippe does? No. Just as Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton's characters didn't act within the boundaries of expected behavior for a black person getting profiled by cops, Phillippe didn't act within the boundaries of expected behavior for a white person picking up a black hitchhiker. He's enlightened enough to pick up a black hitchhiker in a rough part of town, but not enlightened enough to keep from condescending Tate when he talks about country music and ice hockey? Is that any less ridiculous? I don't think so. In each case, a similar conclusion could have been reached with a little more patience, and a little less of the ham-handed screenwriting.
The point is, Crash has plenty of weaknesses, but they aren't enough to outweigh the poignant observations it makes elsewhere. I don't consider it a damaging film because of its faults.