ALEX CROSS follows the young homicide detective/psychologist (Tyler Perry), from the worldwide best-selling novels by James Patterson, as he meets his match in a serial killer (Matthew Fox). The two face off in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, but when the mission gets personal, Cross is pushed to the edge of his moral and psychological limits in this taut and exciting action thriller.
The films Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider introduced movie-going audiences to the character of Alex Cross, a longstanding staple of author James Patterson, and a venerable Sherlock Holmes of the urban police beat. His ability to suss out ulterior motives and double crosses made him a fascinating counterpoint to the whiz-bang attention paid towards contemporary crime and caper films. Keeping that in mind it's hard to see how the character's newest outing, the appropriately titled Alex Cross, could miss the mark by so much.
In place of the always-iconic Morgan Freeman, Tyler Perry has assumed the title role, but plays the character well before his FBI profiling days. Instead, Alex Cross is an up-and-coming Detroit detective on the case of what appears to be a serial killer with a very clear motive. This killer, played by the remarkably veiny and muscular Matthew Fox, is exactly what audiences expect from an Alex Cross foil, he has an intriguing nickname ("The Butcher of Sligo"), he's smarter than a common detective, and he's prone to psychotic musings on the human condition. All of these elements help Fox's character feel like a real match for Cross, that is if we believed Tyler Perry was the clever detective, or cared about his family/partners. (We don't)
For some reason director Rob Cohen thought that establishing the pre-Washington D.C. Cross as somewhat of an action hero would make him more dynamic. Giving the character the brains and the brawn would better suit Cohen's action sensibilities. However, Alex Cross doesn't establish any real stakes, and certainly doesn't make us care about any of its characters, even when their lives are on the line. To further exacerbate things, the film's action is handled with the type of broad, straight-to-DVD approach that is filled with inconsistent editing, poor camera placement, and unimaginative set pieces. The film regularly defies logic, and leaves all the intriguing crime-solving to the very end. Rob Cohen isn't a new filmmaker - he's actually made some decent mid-level blockbusters - but somehow he's lost all grasp of what makes for an intriguing action film. But the worst part is that Alex Cross shouldn't have been an action film to begin with.
Putting Alex Cross into the hands of two untested screenwriters, Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, might have been ill advised; but considering Moss had a hand in Along Came a Spider it's baffling to discover how different the two films are by comparison. Early on, Alex Cross establishes that Cross is a skilled detective who finds clues when there seemingly are none, but after that detail is put forward, the film does nothing with it. Cross doesn't slowly unravel Fox's character's motivations, he instead goes on a shotgun-wielding, revenge trip that further defies every scene that came before it.
Rather than a cohesive film, Alex Cross' script is a series of ideas put together in such a way that few could find it compelling or entertaining. Deciding to pre-date previous Alex Cross stories with this film could have been a bold look into the early years of a skilled detective, but it's instead a chance to make him more energetic, prone to fist fights, and dull. Alex Cross isn't a loose adaptation, it's theft - taking a compelling character and putting him in a silly, mindless plot purely for profit.
If for nothing else than morbid curiosity, a lot of people that see Alex Cross will pay full price just to see how Tyler Perry performs as the lead. The role is a huge departure for the actor/director in terms of the genre, and Perry comes close to making the character work, but for the most part he lacks the tools necessary to keep the film from feeling sillier than it already does. His delivery wavers from beginning to end, and his prowess during action sequences - of which there are far too many - is laughable in a lot of places. Audiences were already going to be skeptical of Perry in the role, yet somehow Cohen thought it would be a good idea to have him run around with a sawed-off shotgun.
To make matters worse, there's a pretty lengthy section in the film - spurned on by a "shocking" turn of events - that is meant to give the film a little darker tone. But instead this 15 minutes or so merely provides an opportunity for Perry to shed a few tears, and hopefully reel audiences back in on an emotional level. We already don't buy him as an action star, a figure of authority, or an accomplished profiler, yet somehow we're expected to believe he has become unhinged and emotionally unstable? Unlikely.
In stark contrast to Perry is Matthew Fox's performance as the villain, who IMDB labels Picasso. Why the "LOST" actor decided to shed an incredible amount of weight for such a role is beyond comprehension, but his dedication is commendable nonetheless. Fox is above average as the brutal psychopath, but unfortunately he's not asked to do anything all that interesting in the film. Moss and Williamson's script sets his character up to be one note, but Fox does his best to make that note as complex as possible.
The remaining cast, including Ed Burns as Cross' long-time friend Tommy, are all means to an end. Disposable, stake-raising fodder or characters intended to fuel some expository scene. Of particular disappointment is Giancarlo Esposito in a token gangster role, whose sole purpose is to help Cross make an appearance during the film's climax. Some perform better than others, but it's hard to blame most of them since their characters are so poorly fleshed out.
As was mentioned earlier, Alex Cross treads action film territory but does so without tact or any sense of space. The film opens with a chase sequence worthy of procedural TV and only gets worse from there. Putting a gun in Tyler Perry's hands was a risky proposition from the start, just like it must have been with Morgan Freeman, except this film's crew failed to maximize Perry's strengths. Explaining why exactly the action doesn't work requires spoiling the climax, so those still interested in the film should turn back now, but know that the film's action is lacking on every level
A final showdown between Fox and Perry epitomizes many of the problems in the film - it's poorly choreographed, defies logic, and is shot in such a way to make it feel like less of a mismatch. We've already established that Fox's character is way too strong for his body type, yet somehow Cross is able to hold is own. That's not Alex Cross; he doesn't go toe-to-toe with serial killers, especially an underground MMA fighter like this. And then we're supposed to believe that Picasso, whose workout regime consists of an awful lot of pull-ups, isn't capable of dangling for more than a few seconds? It's thinking like that which permeates the entirety of Alex Cross and adds insult to injury.
October 19, 2012