This attempt to reboot a popular franchise by using the widely-recognized Tyler Perry as the title character is just one of the downfalls of Alex Cross. There have been two other films featuring the popular Washington D.C. cop and psychologist created by Alex Patterson: Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Morgan Freeman played the primary role in both films and with the exception of being roughly 10 or 15 years too old, was a fantastic film incarnation of the character.
If the goal of this film was to attract a younger demographic with little or no knowledge about Patterson’s franchise that includes 17 bestselling novels, it was an epic fail. If the studio was counting on die hard Alex Cross fans heading to the theater in droves to see a good adaptation, it was an epic fail. Alex Cross is just a bad movie with a flimsy plot and bad acting.
The primary problem with the film is the casting. Although I have seen Perry playing it straight in several films, I associate him with his most well-recognized, eight major studio films not to mention stage plays, and popular character, Madea. Madea is an absurd conglomeration of many negative female black stereotypes as well as a few of the positive. The downside to dressing in drag to portray what has become an iconic character is that it’s hard for an audience to see you as anything else. It would be like having Jim Varney, famous for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, take on the role of Hamlet.
If Perry was a stronger actor, he might be able to overcome the association with his infamous creation. Unfortunately, Perry lacks range. Perry’s work ranges from melodramatic to slapstick with little or no variation between the two. These absolutes turned him into a one trick pony in terms of his emotional depth onscreen. It doesn’t help that he’s following in the footsteps of the formidable Freeman who expertly navigated Alex’s Cross emotional depths.
Perhaps if Perry had taken some smaller roles in films with better and more versatile actors, he would have been in a better position to carry a high-profile movie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have anyone to lean on in the rest of the primary cast either. Alex’s lifelong friend and partner Thomas ‘Tommy’ Kane is played by Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One, No Looking Back). More impressive as a director than an actor Burns cast himself as the lead in several of his own films. The only difference among these characters (always aimless and Irish) are the movie titles. For two men who have been lifelong friends Perry and Burns share no onscreen chemistry when it comes to their work or personal lives.
The antagonist in this debacle is known only as Picasso and is portrayed by Matthew Fox (Lost,Party of Five). He’s incredibly thin to the point of it being distracting. You can’t help but wonder if he lost the weight intentionally for this role, whether he might be ill or have a drug problem. He looks as if he should be appearing in a Holocaust film instead of a crime thriller. The most capable actor of the bunch, it’s unfortunate that his character has very little dialogue.
Like NYC was to Carrie Bradshaw; Washington D.C. is to Alex Cross. However, the movie takes place in Detroit. Alex and his partner are called to a murder scene of an affluent woman named Fan Yau Lee and her bodyguards. Unlike many movies of this genre, the killer is not a mystery to the audience. They know he’s been hired by someone to execute the woman. Personal details of the killer, and who’s holding the purse string are the only mystery.
After just minutes at the crime scene, Alex determines the carnage is the work of one man. The Alex Cross found on the pages of a Patterson book is known amongst his colleagues and by many criminal justice professionals as being extremely intuitive. He’s incredibly well educated and often sees details that others might miss. He doesn’t jump to immediate conclusions; in fact he often stores information, waiting to find the link that pulls everything together. He talks through his thought process giving the reader insight into just how telling the cleanest crime scene can be.
Perry’s Cross comes across as omnipotent and arrogant. It doesn’t matter how he reaches his conclusions; he is infallible. It’s like being driven to a destination wearing a blindfold.
The film opens with Alex and his childhood friend and partner (Edward Burns) solving a high profile case. He doesn’t have much time to revel in his success because there is another killer just getting warmed up. When Alex and his friend are called to the crime scene Perry just offers up what he considers irrefutable facts about the murder like reading off a grocery list. You don’t see the wheels turning; slowly weighing the possibilities storing details in his mind that he may retrieve later.
The killer leaves behind a charcoal drawing, that after closer investigation by Cross, reveals the initials of his next victim. Cross, Kane and another detective, Monica, head to the man’s workplace and come face to face with the killer. Although they manage to prevent another murder, they are unable to take down the suspect. This also draws Picasso’s attention from the task at hand and towards Cross and his team instead. This isn’t surprising since almost all of Cross’s cases become personal.
What is disturbing is how Cross responds when Picasso lashes out. He is easily manipulated and becomes a vigilante working outside the confines of the law. All of a sudden, the case he was working becomes secondary, as Cross is almost reborn without a conscious or moral code. With Kane by his side, Cross seeks Picasso, not to bring him to justice, but for vengeance.
Alex Cross, the film, is like a book with a great cover, but when you open it, the pages are blank. None of the characters have any depth. Nobody seems invested, and all the characters, with the exception of Cross, seem so disposable it is no surprise when they cease to leave a mark on the viewer. There should be more anger, more grief and more understanding. Alex Cross and all of the other characters in Patterson’s books savor and shun what life hands them even though not always in equal measure. Why is that component lacking in this film adaptation?
The special features are sparse; just a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and a featurette titled “The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting and Filming Alex Cross”. This short film offers up some interesting facts regarding Patterson’s and his fictional detective’s popularity. Patterson’s books are the “top mystery/thriller detective series in the past 25 years.” This makes the multitude of blatant inaccuracies that much more difficult to understand. “Alex is tough, he’s tender; he can talk a criminal down, or he can knock him down,” states the film’s producer Steve Bowen. These are the exact qualities that Perry and the screenplay fail to portray in the film.
Patterson acknowledges what a wonderful job Freeman did playing Alex Cross but admits that physically, and in several other ways, Tyler Perry was the type of man he had in mind when he created Alex Cross. Fox admits to making the choice to lose roughly 30 pounds, because he envisioned this character as skeletal and gaunt. Patterson praises the film as the best of the Alex Cross movies, which is the most shocking revelation of all.