Alex Cross is a picture-perfect example of what NOT to do when you get the rights to a popular author’s work.
If director Rob Cohen and his team could’ve picked just a single angle and run with it, this Tyler Perry vehicle-slash-adaptation of novelist James Patterson’s “origin” story for the character of uber-detective Alex Cross (played in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider by Morgan Freeman) might have congealed into something.
As it is, there’s a singular problem plaguing this movie that plagues so many others hitting the multiplex on a weekly basis – it wants to be too many things in the vague hopes of having “something for everyone.”
One minute it’s a cat-and-mouse detective story. The next minute, it’s pseudo highbrow political intrigue. Three scenes later it’s a high-octane actioner. It’s good for the characters in your movie to have an identity crisis – when it becomes clear that the movie itself is in the midst of one, that’s another story, and nine times out of ten it sucks.
And that’s the case here. This movie sucks.
Detroit PD Detective Alex Cross (the aforementioned Perry), his partner Tom Kane (Edward “If you’ve got a snarky character I’m your man!” Burns), and rookie detective Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) are called in to investigate the torture and murder of a wealthy socialite and are drawn into a cat-and-mouse game with a killer known only as Picasso (Matthew Fox, Lost), so named for his tendency to sketch his victims in cubic-esque renderings.
After foiling a follow-up murder, things get personal (as they would in a movie as predictable as this), leading Cross to stretch beyond the restrictions of his badge to prevent Picasso from carrying out a high-profile political killing.
On the surface, that’s a workable enough premise. Where director Cohen and screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson drop the ball, so to speak, is in the desperate search for a proper tone. In the hands of a more competent team and some more fluid transitions, making this an enjoyable movie-going experience would be a walk in the park.
As it is, the widely-divergent storylines converge in a haphazard manner to create an absolute mess of a movie. To say that the transitions aren’t there is unfair to the filmmakers – we’re given a clear signal when the Clarice/Hannibal formula ends and the borderline-retarded action movie begins, but from an audience perspective, the movie is an absolute cheat.
This next paragraph or so is spoiler-filled, so read at your own peril. The transition comes in a very 80s (and VERY predictable) fashion. Cross cobbles together clues from seemingly-insignificant details at the scene of the first murder/torture that enable him and his team to thwart Picasso’s second murder attempt, leading Picasso to take out Monica (Kane’s girlfriend) and Cross’s pregnant wife.
Cohen could have competently made two movies out of this story, but in trying to make the two stories mesh into one results in a film that could be best described as an enthusiastic mess, and the sudden entanglement of an angle involving geopolitical intrigue is so on-the-nose as to be insulting.
In spite of the problems that are inherent with the story, the performances are fairly strong. I feel fairly confident in saying that there will never come a day when Tyler Perry will put his cross-dressing escapades as Madea behind him, but if he ever does, he has a fairly strong leg to stand on with this movie.
He can easily transition from subtle and tender to intense and driven, all the while making it real. Even when considering the unimaginable stretching of credulity, Perry gives the movie enough grounding in reality to keep you from hitting the eject button. Perry carries the movie well and comes across as a believable and plausible hero.
Matthew Fox is equally up-to-the task. There are moments when he goes a little too far over the top, but considering most of his scenes are played in phone conversations with Cross (in essence, the poor guy is playing scenes on his own for most of the movie), his scenery-chewing is understandable and even – to some degree – excusable.
Fox will make you absolutely hate him for all the right reasons. But even though you can excuse some of the weaker aspects of his character, he’s a villain that sticks out like a sore thumb. If the movie was committed to the notion of, “This is a rock ’em, sock ’em actioner,” Fox’s portrayal of Picasso would be completely apropos.
As it is, his theatrics and approach to the character would be more appropriate in a Die Hard movie or even a lower-tier superhero film.
And even though the action-oriented portions of the movie are well-executed (Cohen makes great use of real-life Detroit locations), nothing about the movie comes together to form a single, cohesive story, and the final product simply doesn’t work.
Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate Films bring Alex Cross to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-MPEG 4 encoding that looks quite good. Only wide shots seem somewhat less than pristine, but the closer to the characters the camera is, the better the picture seems to be. When the film goes wide, there are some minor artifacting issues that tend to become a little distracting. Having said that, black levels and definition are strong, especially in the darker scenes near both the beginning and end of the film.
In terms of audio, the film is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (a trademark for less-than-deserving Lionsgate releases), and it more than makes up for the deficiencies in the video department. The lossless transfer allows for some very nice balance between subtle dialogue scenes and gunfire-heavy moments. It’s one of the better-balanced tracks I’ve heard in quite some time and allows for a very immersive audio experience.
Beyond the Feature
The audio commentary with Cohen is enough evidence to show that a genuine amount of thought and work was put into the film, and the director takes great lengths to describe both the brick-and-mortar MAKING of the film as well as an in-depth discussion of the creative process. Despite the weaknesses, Alex Cross was somebody’s labor of love, and that comes through in this commentary track.
(Having said that, the effort doesn’t pay off. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this or not, but this movie sucks.)
There’s also a 14-minute documentary, The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting and Filming ‘Alex Cross’ that covers both the filming of this film and delves into a discussion of a broad amount of ‘Cross’ stories yet-to-be filmed. It’s put together well, but it fills me with dread that Summit and Lionsgate may yet still try to make this a bankable franchise.
Rounding out the special features is about five minutes’ worth of deleted scenes (none of which are of particular interest) and the theatrical trailer.
All special features are presented in 1080p high definition.
Alex Cross was clearly meant to be the beginning of a new franchise, and Perry’s performance hints that, with a little focus, it could be a highly entertaining one. But with the opening salvo hitting with an audible ‘THUD,’ I don’t see it lasting much longer than this first film.
And if this film is any indication, this franchise needs to head back to the drawing board, and right quick at that.
Shop for Alex Cross on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (February 5, 2013 release date).