Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is a genius, one of those perceptive super-detectives able to read crime scenes in seconds. You know this because he knows all the answers when his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), prompts him to play the what’s new game. She’s got latte foam on her blouse, she’s wearing new lipstick, she’s just pumped gas and used hand sanitizer, and oh yes… she’s got an sonogram coming in on the fax machine. Wait! What?
So maybe he’s not so smart. Or maybe he’s distracted, being that he’s just come home from a long day running through tunnels and shooting down suspects. But whatever Alex is up to, this early scene in Alex Cross telegraphs a bit too acutely that the wife’s in trouble. There’s nothing like the murder of a loved one—a pregnant loved one, to boot—to get a law enforcement officer riled up and ready for explosive, angry, outside-the-law revenge. In this case, that revenge serves another function, to move the Alex Cross franchise from Detroit (here rendered in a series of impressionistic broken-city backdrops) to the FBI in DC.
Alex’s motivation is provided here by the psycho killer introduced—at an MMA cage fight, no less—as the Butcher of Sligo (Matthew Fox). You know he’s a psycho killer because he’s super-skinny and relentlessly tattooed, his head is shaved, and he has a glazy look in his eye, and, so helpfully, the screen zigzags and pulsates when he goes into a psycho killer rage. As he enters the MMA facility, the Butcher—who also goes by Picasso, because he leaves cubistic charcoal drawings at his crime scenes—doesn’t appear to be large enough to withstand his thick-necked opponent’s abuses, and the emcee makes noises to that effect. But after a couple of fake-out collapses and Significant Glances toward a slinky rich lady in the audience, Picasso sets to his brutal work, that is, his sick delight in his feeling own pain and also in dispatching the thick-necked fellow.
Soon Picasso is heading home with the slinky lady. Her name is Fan Yau (Stephanie Jacobsen), though it hardly matters, as she only has a couple of minutes and maybe three lines before she’s turned into a fingerless, carved-up clue for Alex Cross and his team, Tommy (Edward Burns) and Monica (Rachel Nichols). Strewn with the bloody bodies of Fan Yau’s security guards, the crime scene yields immediate information, which Alex translates on cue, that is, Tommy’s best-friendy wisecrack: “Care to enlighten the Muggles, my friend?” The psycho killer is psycho, Alex deduces.
As you’ve already seen vivid evidence of same, you’re less impressed by Alex’s mental gymnastics than you might have been. And this is the problem, repeatedly, in Alex Cross, its abject obviousness and distracting sloppiness. Even if you can forgive a couple of continuity problems (Tommy and Alex start driving to Fan Yau’s house in the dark night and arrive in bright daylight), you have to wonder if anyone read this script before he—or infinitely more disturbingly, she—signed on. This puzzle may divert you during the lugubrious exchanges, as a series of questions present themselves: what would Gus Fring think of the dimwitted gangster Giancarlo Esposito plays here? When did Jean Reno turn predictable? Who is this Jeff Coopwood, once the voice of the Borg and credited here as Tyler Perry’s voice? And oh my goodness, can someone please rescue Cicely Tyson—here called Nana Mama—from performing minor variations on her Madea movie matriarchs for the rest of her career?
Sadly, pondering such questions won’t sustain you for the duration of Alex Cross, which means you may have to spend some time actually watching it. This means you’ll endure some perfunctory shootouts (including glass shattering in slow motion in a supposedly secure penthouse office) and the deeply creepy Picasso wreaking havoc on a pack of idiots who make the mistake of taunting him on a train and also on another woman, her torture recorded and duly sent off, yet another nudge for Alex.
When Picasso’s nudging yields pretty much exactly the results he seems to want, namely, Alex’s desperate, stupid, sawed-off engagement in his ultra-violent scheme, you’re prompted to ask another question. If Picasso is repeatedly driven into manic psycho-killeristic behavior—taunting his victims, suturing his own bullet wound, grinding his way through pull-ups—he has that excuse, you know, that he’s a psycho killer. Alex doesn’t have that excuse, quite, though when Nana Mama tries to reason with Alex, it looks like she too has raised something of a psycho killer. Imagine her disappointment. “I know what you’re up to,” Nana Mama announces, eyeing his kevlar vest, sweaty brow, and black sack of weapons. “I’m going to deliver some justice,” he says. Um, no. Just some more clichés.