Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Alex Cross: A Review (Review #520)


I don't blame Tyler Perry for attempting to try something new, and Alex Cross, what is suppose to be a gritty, dark, psychological thriller is as far as one can get from a tall black man in a dress and fat suit.  Since there have been apparently endless James Patterson novels about our titular character, I can figure that Alex Cross is meant to be a franchise-starter, where we see more films about our brilliant detective/psychiatrist.  I have never seen either Kiss the Girls or Along Came a Spider, the two other Alex Cross adaptations starring Morgan Freeman as Cross.   With Alex Cross, I can say that Tyler Perry did the best he could with what he was handed.  I can also say that one simply could not have chosen a worse way to attempt a franchise with such a lackluster film, filled with moments of unintended humor and some poor choices.

Alex Cross (Perry) is a brilliant psychiatrist and policeman, with a great wife (Carmen Ejogo) and two great kids...or three with Maria preggers.  He has a best friend since childhood who works under him, Thomas Kane (Edward Burns), who is having an affair with his fellow officer Monica (Rachel Nichols), a no-no in Alex's eyes.

As we continue, Detroit is now plagued by a serial killer, one of those brilliant psychopaths who leaves cryptic clues and gets off on torturing people.  Named Picasso by the detectives, the only name he ever gave was when he entered a cage match: The Butcher of Sligo (Matthew Fox).  Picasso is a master assassin, targeting people involved with a rich French tycoon named Leon Mercier (Jean Reno).  Mercier is in Detroit to help rebuild the devastated city with new industry, but those working under him have either met gruesome deaths or come close to it.

As Cross and his crew continue investigating, Picasso/Butcher continues his rampage, which now becomes personal.  He first killed Monica, then when he is thisclose to killing Cross off, Picasso quickly turns to Maria, assassinating her.  Cross is filled with both anger and regret, and soon becomes blinded by his fury.  Only his mother, Nana Mama (Cicely Tyson) advises that by pursing his own justice, Alex Cross will lose himself.  Despite himself, Alex and Tom are able to put their own griefs aside in order to stop Picasso from his rampage, and they succeed.  Alex Cross ends with the Widower having accepted an FBI position as a profiler, Tom giving him his application to the Burea, and Nana Mama bringing comfort...oh, and the brains behind the operation is caught.

Again, I don't blame Perry for attempting to branch out beyond the Madea character he has popularized, to show himself as both a leading man AND a genuine actor.  However, he couldn't have picked a WORSE way of going about it because there is nothing for Perry in Alex Cross to work with. Now, never having read any James Patterson novel of any kind (either from an Alex Cross, Women's Murder Club, or Maximum Ride series or something else from this publishing factory), I simply cannot believe his books can be as awful as the Marc Moss and Kelly Williamson adaptation of Patterson's Cross.  I'd like to look beyond the silliness of the whole "super-hitman who is always a step ahead of everyone else and is able to perform masterful dastardly deeds that put James Bond henchmen to shame".  It is just that nothing in Alex Cross is compelling: not the crimes, not the victims, not the characters.

Rob Cohen did a simply abysmal directing job if by directing you mean you guide the actors into their roles.  Perry looked almost catatonic as our lead, one who has no emotions to express.  Whether his wife and unborn child is killed before him or he confronts his mother's warnings or rams Picasso in what is intended to be a climatic confrontation, Perry has the same expression.  I don't hold him responsible because I imagine that since he was not directing himself, he was told to underplay everything. 

The same can't be said of Fox, who I figure was told to OVERPLAY everything to the point of farce.  At one point, when our master villain is taunting Cross with how his wife died, he does the unthinkable: make the "menacing dialogue" hilarious.  "If you had just kept your moth shut," Fox begins with his head looking right.  Then he looks STRAIGHT AT THE CAMERA to conclude, "you wouldn't be feeling any pain at all!"  I confess I just burst into laughter at this.  It was all so hilarious: the wild-eyed intensity of Fox (who already makes for easy parody from his role in Lost), mixed with the line reading PLUS the actual dialogue (which make it sound as if he is either threatening or apologizing to the audience for the film).

Burns, who A.) has never been able to rub his Irish charms off on me, B.) never convinced me he is some sort of writer/director genius (though I have never seen The Brothers McMullen), and C.) ALWAYS plays a variation of the wiseacre cop, does something he's never done in a wasted as a character.  He pretty much plays the same character in the films he doesn't write/direct himself, and Alex Cross is a Bartha role for him as any that has come along.

As a side note, it's curious that TWO of Alex Cross' stars best known for their own work as independent film actor/writer/directors can't do good acting when someone else is doing the writing and directing.

Everyone is wasted in Alex Cross...acting-wise.  It's so sad to see both Ejogo (who was one of the best things about the remake of Sparkle) and Tyson have so little to do.  Both are much better actresses than the material given to them, and that is one of the big flaws in Alex good as the actors (and Fox) may be, they can't make the most ludicrous situations believable.  Even worse, when you cast John C. McGinley as Cross' Chief, every scene he's in makes him look like a comical idiot.  The big problem with McGinley is that one is never sure if we're SUPPOSE to think he's an idiot or not.

Another unintended comic aspect is John Debney's score, which tries so hard to make things so dramatic and intense but again only comes off as parody than serious.

I figure that the hope was that Alex Cross would do two things: show Tyler Perry in a new light (that of a serious actor who could carry a film without a fat suit and a muumuu), and be the introduction to a franchise built around this criminologist genius.  Perry I think still can fulfill his separate goal to branch out beyond Madea (that might make for a good title: Tyler Perry's Beyond Madea), but Alex Cross is no franchise-builder.  It's just a shot in the dark that missed its target by a mile.

What everyone who paid to see Alex Cross felt...


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