Battleship dumbfounded audiences with its stupidity, Project X with its hateful misogyny, and The Lucky One with its pervasive sentimentality. Based on a best-selling series of novels by James Patterson, Alex Cross commits the sin of treating its adult audience like a group of toddlers who just awoke from naptime.
Issue being, the roles are revered: here we’re the wide-eyed and observant spectators watching this hazy, confused, and disastrous display of action filmmaking awaken, then implode, and ultimately explode in a fiery pit of hackneyed cinema.
Set in Detroit, Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is a prophetic homicide detective pushed to his limits when a masochist sociopath takes the Motor city by storm. The ex-military murderer named Picasso (Matthew Fox) proclaims “inflicting pain” is a part of his “calling” in life. Amid painting, poisoning, and torturing, the psychopath – without any clear rhyme or reason – targets an international financier who wants to rebuild Detroit.
Called to investigate and hunt down the criminal, Cross and partner Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) run into some trouble when Picasso proves to be their greatest threat to date. Both detectives, through a series of graphic death sequences, broach their own moral and physical limits.
Alex Cross is grim and gritty, relentless in its dark portrayal of one man succumbed by insanity, the other on the brink of it. For the opening half hour, director Rob Cohen (responsible for Fast and the Furious and The Skulls) provides some wonderfully entertaining moments – almost convincing us that these characters are worthy of our time.
The film’s momentary satisfaction is quickly squandered when Alex Cross’ objective(s) becomes clear: another vehicle for Tyler Perry to please his audience (who apparently are ardent enough viewers for the aforementioned star to keep making movies and T.V. shows).
Perry, similar to a Tom Cruise or a Will Smith (though they’re much more talented), can never quite inhabit a role. You don’t see Alex Cross, the commanding law-enforcer on screen, but Tyler Perry, the actively straining and ungifted actor.
Terrible things happen to our protagonist and his family – not that any of it carries much weight. Screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson clearly placed their emphasis on unintelligible shoot em up’ action sequences over character or thematic development. There’re some nifty gadgets and garish firepower in Alex Cross, but hardly any substance. If the combat sequences were created to dismay and perplex the audience with its hyper-editing tactics and hand-held camerawork, they succeeded.
There’s some minute subtext in the dichotomy between seeking justice and providing revenge. Are the two interchangeable? The “eye for an eye” approach seems to be at play in Alex Cross – in which our protagonist decides to personally hunt down this methodical killer who has brutally taken away someone he loves.
Though, much like the ferocious act of redemption, Alex Cross is ultimately both unsettling and unsatisfying. Cohen and Perry desperately want us to respect their story – but never does the film take time to respect its audience.
I’m sure that’s a punishable crime in utopia. I can already envision Perry and company’s prison sentence: life in Hollywood without ever making a motion picture again. It’d be a joyous public service for all.