Brian Tee and Arlene Tur, Crash

Seems every movie channel wants its own Mad Men–style prestige project. Which could explain why pay-cable upstart Starz has raided the Oscar vault to turn the 2006 best-picture winner, Crash, into an ambitious, if not immediately convincing, weekly series.

With all new characters, so this isn't exactly a sequel, TV's Crash resembles the movie in being less about car wrecks than about disparate cultures colliding within the ethnic melting pot of Los Angeles. Still, there is one fateful smashup in the opening hour, and pivotal moments often occur on wheels — in a limo, an ambulance, a patrol car.

An uneven slice of urban life that blends police and domestic intrigue, with plenty of graphic language and sex and violence to remind us we're in HBO/Showtime country, Crash initially feels like a drive-by drama. It skitters along the surface of various racial, sexual, class and moral-ethical conflicts without immersing us fully enough in any individual story line. That could change, and improve, over time.

But first impressions count for a lot, and Crash opens on a whopping wrong note by focusing on the cast's biggest name, who ironically may be the ensemble's weakest link: hammy Dennis Hopper as a wacko music mogul first seen delivering an overwritten, pretentious soliloquy to his groin. Obsessed with mortality and prone to violent outbursts, he's obviously meant to be tragically fascinating. So far, he's not.

I was much more drawn to Eddie (Brian Tee), a Korean-American who's left gang life to work as a paramedic but gets caught up in a murder plot that puts him at odds with a corrupt police lieutenant who's sleeping with a fellow officer who…and so it goes, in an endless vicious circle.

Crash doesn't burn so much as it simmers. It's provocative and intriguing, but leaves you wondering if the whole setup might not simply work better as a movie.

Crash airs Fridays at 10 pm/ET on Starz.