You’d think a thriller about a brilliantly dogged detective matching wits with a sadistically smart serial killer would be at least somewhat entertaining. You’d be right in thinking that too, and if that’s the kind of film you’re looking for I recommend Memories of Murder, Copycat or Seven to fill your needs.
Because there’s nothing about the new film Alex Cross that comes even close to brilliant, smart or intentionally entertaining.
Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is a homicide detective and doctor (of some kind but probably a psychologist) in Detroit who’s grown weary of his police beat and is considering taking an adviser role with the FBI. Before he can convince his pregnant wife that the move to Washington DC is in their best interest he’s tasked with solving a multiple murder with a tortured woman at its center. Cross’ team includes his childhood friend, Det. Tommy Kane (Ed Burns), and the young but talented Det. Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), and their target is a determined and very capable killer whose name changes with the turn of the script’s page. Picasso aka the Four Roses Killer aka Cadillac spokesperson (Matthew Fox) is targeting high-ranking executives, but after he’s almost caught during an attempted hit he turns his focus towards Cross and friends.
It doesn’t take long before you’ll start wishing him the best of luck.
The problems here are legion, but the blame breakdown looks to be about 30/70 between director Rob Cohen and screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson. For his part Cohen routinely fails (with one exception) to create any sense of urgency or suspense, and just as damning is his inability to shoot and edit an exciting or even interesting action scene. Fights are a jumble of quick cuts and close-ups that confuse and bore more than anything else, scenes that should be overflowing with tension are deflated with extraneous dialogue and a large scale explosion is neutered by the use of noticeably poor CGI.
The script, as it appears here, is the biggest issue though. Conversations refer to people or names as if viewers are familiar when that’s clearly not the case. Cross makes ludicrous deductions based off the most minimal investigation, including at the initial murder house where he glances at two of the four victims and declares definitively that this was the work of one killer. Picasso is supposedly a professional hitman who behaves like an over the top serial killer and develops a beef with Cross’ team. This is made clear when he stares intently at a newspaper clipping featuring all three detectives’ names and faces plastered across the page after the trio caught a rapist.
Most egregious is the character of Kane who seemingly only exists to point out things we’ve just seen and to be the voice of incredulity reacting to Cross’ genius. “We gotta get this guy,” he says after a particularly nasty event that itself makes it very clear that, yes, yes they do need to get that guy.
To be fair, some of these issues may be resolved by way of footage left on the cutting room floor, but that doesn’t help the film currently playing in theaters.
The movie is more of a mixed bag in the acting department. John C. McGinley and Jean Reno chew up Detroit as police chief and CEO respectively, and Cicely Tyson channels the grandmother from Jim Henson’s Dinosaurs sitcom as Cross’ mother. Burns is simply passing through happy to pick up a studio paycheck while Nichols actually comes across fine for her limited screen time. Fox achieved a pretty focused physical transformation for his role, and he’s paired it with a quirk-filled, over the top turn that feels apart from the movie. He’s not bad, but he belongs in a looser, more entertaining thriller. Maybe something with Nicolas Cage chasing after him.
Perry is probably the film’s singular surprise, but before that gets blown out of proportion just know that he’s also a major liability. Fears that his “Madea” character would haunt viewers’ minds as they watch him onscreen here were for naught, and he does a fine job with the family scenes and basic interactions with his peers. But Tyler Perry, Action Star? No. He’s just not convincing with a gun in his hand or hard-edged cop speak leaving his lips. He has big, God-like shoes to fill with the role previously belonging to Morgan Freeman in both Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, but he fails to fill more than a couple shoelace eyelets.
Alex Cross is not a good movie. To put it another way, of the three films featuring James Patterson’s most famous character, this one would rank fourth on the list.
The Upside: Tyler Perry isn’t even close to the worst thing here
The Downside: Abysmal script; deductions are rarely explained or logical; Ed Burns’ character exists only to state the obvious; there are gaps of missing explanations
On the Side: Idris Elba reportedly came close to securing the title role for the film. Celebrate the fact that he avoided this stinker by giving his fantastically cool British series Luther a spin