James Patterson’s series of Alex Cross novels are immensely popular. Not only have the books sold millions of copies, but they have now spawned two different film series. First, we were treated to Morgan Freeman as something of an older version of Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Now, we have been given the simply titled Alex Cross, with Tyler Perry playing the lead role. I am not a huge fan of the first two movies, but they are both head and shoulders better than this new incarnation.
Directed by Rob Cohen, Alex Cross is–and I’m not sure how else to say this so I’m going to go with the straightforward and simple approach–a disaster. Every actor in the film seems as though they have a different interpretation of what the film is supposed to be, which actually makes some sense because oftentimes scenes seem to follow one another with little to no regard to what came before and what’s going to come next. It is impossible here to say that the fault ought to be laid squarely at the feet of the script (from Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson), the acting, or the direction, because all three leave something to be desired, although the acting really may be the worst part.
And here with the acting, as with the film itself, the problems are legion. Tyler Perry regularly appears as though he’s ready to crack a joke, even when holding a dead body in his arms. It is as though he simply cannot keep a smile from his face. Ed Burns as Thomas Kane, Cross’ partner, generally chooses a noir persona. He is good, but more than anyone else, Burns seems to be in a movie all his own. Can we fault him for offering up the best performance? Maybe it is wrong suggesting that he ought to play down to those around him, but maybe he, more than anyone else, didn’t get that the film wasn’t supposed to be so bad it’s funny. Matthew Fox as our murderer, Picasso, appears to truly be in physical pain more than once. Fox appears to have worked out heavily for the role, and has body fat approaching zero percent, but rather than being able to offer that up as a part of his character, he chooses to go around and tilt his head at odd angles, almost smelling the air to see if he’s burning dinner.
The rest of the supporting cast—and there are some good names here—are no better. Jean Reno plays a wealthy businessman of some sort, but doesn’t get to do much other than make you wonder what happened to that guy from The Professional. Carmen Ejogo is Marcia Cross, Alex’s wife, and if you don’t know where her role is headed from the moment she appears you may never have seen a movie before. Even she appears to know where the role is headed and seems to simply be awaiting her juicier moments. John C. McGinley is the chief of police who is running for mayor and, like Perry, never seems sure if he should be going for funny or serious. Neither Rachel Nichols nor Cicely Tyson nor Giancarlo Esposito have the ability to raise their characters—and perhaps the movie—over the broadest of stereotypical police thriller characters.
As for plot, well forget it. It isn’t just paint by numbers, it’s barely painted at all. It follows a well worn, not terribly detailed, map from the opening action sequence to establish our good guy to the time the credits start to roll. Mercifully, at 101 minutes in length it doesn’t take all that long for those credits to begin.
I like pulp fiction and dime store mystery thrillers as much as anyone, and there is absolutely no need for every single movie to think completely outside the box and give us something we haven’t seen before. However, if you’re going to go down an oft-trodden path, the movie needs to be done well. Have a good action sequence, have characters that make sense on their own rather than with what the audience brings to the film (as they’ve seen its ilk before), shoot it in an interesting fashion, connect the dots of the story rather than shooting scenes that might be “cool” but aren’t. Do something. Give the audience a reason to leave the theater and think to themselves, “Oh sure, I knew what was going to happen but the way they did it was great.” Alex Cross offers none of that, it just skips along from one moment to the next, one scene to the next, hoping that the actors won’t break out in hysterics and that the audience’s expectations that it has to get better will keep them in their seats.
Unquestionably, the best thing about the Blu-ray release is the level of detail offered up. Every pore on Tyler Perry’s face and every hair in his goatee is offered up for inspection. The oranges and teals the film delivers in an abundance of scenes are pretty to look at, although perhaps both derivative and ill-suited to the subject material. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is full of sizzle and pomp, with gunshots, explosions, car crashes, and musical stings playing out beautifully. The dialogue is given short shrift in the mix, often being too low in comparison to the effects, but even if you can’t hear it, you’ll know exactly what everyone is saying.
The special features include a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and a short featurette about the making of the movie in which everyone—absolutely everyone—assures you that this is without a doubt the best Alex Cross movie yet. Whether they truly believe that or simply feel it inappropriate to speak out against the film they’re a part of is unclear, one hopes it is the latter. UltraViolet and iTunes copies are also included.
If you’re yearning to see Alex Cross in high definition, per haps streaming Along Came a Spider or Kiss the Girls from Amazon Instant will do. They may not be genius (they may not even be very good), but they’re better than what we’re offered here.