ALEX CROSS– 2 STARS
Local west side Chicago theaters and showtimes
On the third day of 2012, I wrote a mocking editorial of “New Year’s Resolutions for the Movie Industry.” The #1 resolution on that list was “wait ten year or at least five, before restarting, remaking, or rebooting a movie franchise.” While The Amazing Spider-Man (my full review) and The Bourne Legacy (my full review) didn’t exactly listen, they put up a decent effort against the rules. By the ten-year rationale of my resolution, the makers of Alex Cross have waited the proper amount of time. It’s been 15 years since we saw Morgan Freeman embody the famous James Patterson literary forensic psychologist detective to wax poetically saving Ashley Judd in Kiss the Girls and 11 years since its far-lesser follow-up Along Came a Spider.
Where the makers of Alex Cross screwed up was not reading the rest of my resolution where I declared that Hollywood should only commit to remakes and reboots that matter. Much like this summer’s pointless Total Recall (my full review) remake and the recent Dredd 3D remake bomb, did we really need another Alex Cross serial killer hunt? Weren’t Morgan Freeman’s pair of movies, done before the massive movement of forensic police procedurals on television, good enough? For the majority of us, I don’t have to be a detective or a doctor to suspect that the answer is “no.”
Still, because Alex Cross followed the resolution rules of waiting at least a decade, I wanted to give the film a fair shake. On paper, director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) was wise to bring in a screenwriter that knew his way around Patterson’s novels and characters in the form of Marc Moss, a co-scribe on Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Their filmmaking choice of a clean slate, younger pre-FBI story for Cross was a good idea to distance itself from Freeman’s take. On paper, for both wide audience appeal and youth to build a new franchise, casting a guy like Tyler Perry (over Idris Elba) was a pretty smooth move as well. However, that’s all fine and good on paper.
On screen, however, Alex Cross is a lazy and uninspired attempt. The readers of the Patterson’s crime novels will tell you, the character of Alex Cross is a ripe and rich literary character with many incredible stories and thrilling stories to tell. He deserves better than this uneven effort.
Moving the literary history from Washington, D.C. to Detroit, Dr. Alex Cross (Perry, dropping his Madea act) is a highly respected homicide detective and psychologist for the city police. His specialty is the forensics end of solving murders, but he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Alex is a happily married father of two to Maria (Carmen Ejogo of Sparkle) with a third child on the way. His partner is Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), his local best friend since childhood. Det. Dr. Cross has recently received a job offer from the FBI that he’s mulling over, weighing the pay raise and easier hours against uprooting his family and duty to the city.
When an ex-military assassin (the shocking Matthew Fox from Lost) with a penchant for mixed martial arts known only as the “Butcher of Sligo” and the nickname “Picasso” for his abstract charcoal art clues takes out a security team and tortures to death a young trophy wife with connections to Detroit’s upper crust elite. Alex, Tommy, and their third team member Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) are put on the case. With Alex’s deft detective work, they are able to follow the clues quickly and thwart Picasso’s next kill, nearly apprehending him in the process. This just pisses the vicious killer off and now the three detectives join Picasso’s “Cross”-hairs (you know you needed a pun to wash that down). This case soon becomes personal (cue the dramatic music chord).
Alex Cross is all over the place and a textbook example of uneven filmmaking. For a movie that’s supposed to be a thriller, scenes with excitement are cut short while cutesy character development and attempts at comedy go on too long. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve all seen a pile of bad movies that flip that the other way, offering long dumb action with little to no valuable character development. Alex Cross tries to set down some character roots, but forgets the tension we paid money to see and the spine-tingling suspense we value from the source material. Simply put, you will yawn far more than you will cover your eyes. The movie, with its watered-down PG-13 limitations, contains very little bite, peril, fear, and/or surprise. Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider wisely took things to a R-rated level to great suspenseful success. Alex Cross is missing that dedication to push the envelope in trade for a PG-13 rating that will sell more tickets. Once again, this material and character deserves better.
For those that know the source novel (simply titled Cross, the 12th in Patterson’s series), Cohen, Moss, and the filmmakers “butcher” the story (the puns continue). With a preposterous multi-target assassination plot and even more preposterous chases and set pieces, Alex Cross is a weak mish-mash of scenes that just don’t hold much water or sense. Matthew Fox, with a dramatic muscular look and evil intensity, steps up his game to be a very worthy movie villain concept, but gets stuck delivering awful movie villain monologues and is given zero back story to intriguingly connect with. Like most good detective or crime stories or movies, the hero is only as good as his villain. This badness is the material. It’s not Fox’s fault for trying.
About that hero, Tyler Perry does a very good job giving the legendary title character rooted emotion, the necessary intelligence, and a strong sense of purpose. While no one is going to be Morgan Freeman, Perry is a worthy potential successor for this character. It’s nice to see him away from Madea’s shenanigans and building a real character. He looks pretty beefy toting a shotgun while adorned in long trench coats. It’s a shame, like Fox, he’s given such bad material to work with. Still, Perry and Fox are the reasons to watch and attempt to enjoy Alex Cross. Their scenes interacting with each other are the best this poor movie can offer. If the filmmakers follow through with bringing Double Cross to the big screen (as is planned right now) as a sequel and continuation with Perry, they need to step up their game, tighten the screws, and raise the stakes.
LESSON #1: BEFORE YOU EMBARK OF THE JOURNEY OF REVENGE, DIG TWO GRAVES— This cheesy, yet pertinent quotation of Confucius is just one part of those bad monologues I told you about from Fox’s villain. His character definitely goes the extra effort to make this case and string of murders personal to Alex Cross. While dumb for a movie where we know the hero is going to make it (sequel plan and all), real life revenge can have this wise logic. Someone who is plotting revenge likely will either get themselves killed in the process or is willing to go down with his or her target to the Gates of Hell. Confucius, as always, is right.
LESSON #2: THE TALENT OF FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY— As many TV shows since Seven, Kiss the Girls and The Silence of the Lambs have fictionally taken forensic investigation to overblown popularity and tangents, James Patterson’s famous character remains a master example of the craft and skill. While his books are probably just as trumped up and implausible fiction as the TV imitators, it’s still fun to watch Alex Cross break down a murder scene and examine a killer’s motives. Fiction or not, there is truth and talent within the details and clues in every crime.
LESSON #3: THE OVERLY DRAMATIC HEIGHTS OF CRIME FICTION— We can thank movies and novels for making serial killer and assassin stories so dramatic and fictionally compelling compared to the low-key paperwork and diligent investigation done by real members of law enforcement. In real life, how many killers constantly contact and call their hunter without getting caught? How many leave blatant clues that will get them caught? It’s seems like only in the movies do we get mano-y-mano showdowns, threatening phone calls, monologued confessions, and flurries of bullets. Like many movies before it and many movies that will come after it, Alex Cross is pure movie fiction compared to real killers and real police work. Enjoy your fictional movie Kool-Aid.