Alex Cross acts as prequel/reboot of the movie franchise centered around author James Patterson’s popular detective character, who was previously played by Morgan Freeman in the films Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001). Media mogul Tyler Perry steps into the role of Cross this time, in an origin story about how the brilliant investigator went from head of a Detroit police special unit, to the older, wiser, FBI profiler seen in in the aforementioned films.
When a ruthless assassin (Matthew Fox) shows up in town to off some high-ranking business people, Cross and his team step in to intervene. However, when the killer turns his attention on Cross, it proves to have dire consequences for the lawman and those around him. Before long, Dr. Cross is no longer on a case – he’s locked into a battle to hold on to everything (and everyone) he holds dear.
Directed by action movie veteran Rob Cohen (Fast and the Furious, xXx, The Mummy 3, Stealth), Alex Cross fits in lock-and-step with the other entries of the filmmaker’s resume: thin, B-movie genre entertainment. That’s not to say there isn’t anything to enjoy in the film, but unlike the Freeman-era of Cross films, the 2012 version is less concerned with substance and character, and more concerned with providing the standard set piece-to-set piece thrills, with a heavy dramatic piece wedged awkwardly into the middle. And nothing about it feels fresh or necessary.
Cohen – who has never been shy about playing in the sand box of modern CGI filmmaking – has created a film that feels strangely anachronistic. From the cinematography to the shot choices, to the bad dialogue, makeup and stunt work, it wouldn’t be hard to convince an uninformed viewer that Alex Cross was released years before Kiss the Girls, as it has pretty much every trademark of an early-to-mid-90s, B-movie action flick (I had Die Hard 3 deja vu several times while watching it).
As mentioned, the script by newcomer Kerry Williamson and Marc Moss (who wrote Along Came a Spider - the inferior Morgan Freeman Cross film) hits some pretty uneven beats. The early establishment of our killer is interesting, but the establishment of our detectives is awkward and obvious; the first act of mystery and action is compelling enough, but then things suddenly lurch into an intense drama come the second act. By the time the third act starts, the narrative is flailing badly, focus is lost, many of the plot points and red herrings dangled early on get ignored entirely, and things fizzle out into an unimpressive and ultimately underwhelming climax, with a lot of muddled story leftover.
Tyler Perry is a mixed bag as Cross. He conveys the character’s intellect well, and carries the heavier dramatic portions better than a lot of other leading men could, but the former stage play writer/actor also carries too much melodrama in his dialogue delivery at times, and it is hard to view him as an action star in any kind of way. The previous films wisely kept the action stunts at a minimum.
Matthew Fox is almost too freaky as the killer (who’s never actually named in the film), having undergone a radical physical transformation from his role as Dr. Jack on Lost. Here, Fox is nothing but lean muscle; a kind of jacked version of Christian Bale in The Machinist. Add to that his wild stare, twitch mannerisms and off-beat delivery, and it’s safe to say that the actor (through sheer force of will) livens up what is ostensibly an undercooked character. In many ways, it’s Fox (not Perry) who carries this film.
There are a lot of solid actors filling out the supporting cast – though almost every one of them gets short-changed, given the talent. A distracting subplot involving Cross’ teammates (played by Ed Burns and Rachel Nichols) has none of the impact it’s supposed to; iconic actress Cicely Tyson (as Cross’ mother) interacts with Perry as if the two are in a stage play (that overdose of melodrama I mentioned); while quality character actors like Jean Reno (The Professional), John C. McGinely (Scrubs) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) are rationed out minimal screen time to play one-dimensional bit characters.
Where Alex Cross does get it right is in the tense scenes of cat-and-mouse between Cross and the killer. There are a couple set piece moments that definitely fulfill the promise of a good thriller – but again, the final act is so shoddy that an overall sense of payoff is never achieved. When your “big finish” consists of shaky-cam fight choreography and shots so poorly conceived that you can see the stuntman’s wig, it’s hard to call the movie a winner. Still, Perry is solid enough that – in the hands of a better director, and with a script that doesn’t try to depict Cross as an action hero – he could conceivably carry another installment of the franchise.
Unfortunately for Dr. Cross, getting to that next chapter might be a hard sell for audiences, as there is little in this current one to leave them hungry for more.
Alex Cross is now playing in theaters. It is Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references, and nudity.