Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alex Cross

I'm going to start out this review with a few disclaimers.  First of all, I am not a big fan of James Patterson's work as an author, or as the inspiration for movies.  I have also not paid any attention to Tyler Perry's body of work; the only Tyler Perry movie I've seen up to this point is Star Trek.  I don't particularly care one way or the other about the choice to reboot this franchise with a younger star (Morgan Freeman played Alex Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider).  Having said all that, I have to point out that the movie trailer for Alex Cross looked pretty generic, at best:
Does anyone actually need to be persuaded to leave Detroit?  And while I am not a big fan of the previous Alex Cross movies, I have to say that I preferred the character as someone who out-thinks the bad guys, instead of just another cop on the edge.  Still, maybe that was just the trailer; it seems unlikely that the movie will have a dubstep score, so maybe the movie was just cut to shreds by the people making the movie trailer.

Alex Cross is, not surprisingly, about Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), a Detroit police detective who for some reason is called "doctor" Cross by most people.  I get it, he probably has a psychology degree or something, but that seems like a title that would not trump "detective," at least not when he is a detective.  Cross and his team --- Alex's lifelong friend, Thomas (Edward Burns), and Thomas's girlfriend, Monica (Rachel Nichols) ---are assigned to a violent crime by their Captain (John C. McGinley)'re the best?  They're next up on the rotation?  I'm not entirely sure.  The crime scene is in a swanky area, and there are four victims; three are bodyguards who appear to have not gotten a shot off, and the fourth is their client, who was tortured to death while wearing lingerie.  Alex gives the scene the once-over and decides, without any evidence that he's willing to share with the audience or his fellow detectives, that this was all the work of one man.  A highly trained and sadistic man, but one man nonetheless.
"Look, I'm just reading a script.  If you want insight, hire a poet"
At the scene, they recover a Cubist-inspired pencil drawing of the dead woman, writhing in pain.  Or maybe she just looks like a normal Cubist portrait.  I'm not an art critic.  Alex notices something odd in the drawing, though, and --- I have to emphasize how odd a choice this is for any sane person --- treats it like a Mad Magaize fold-in, which results in Alex finding a hidden message in the drawing that identifies the killer's next target.  Remarkably, Alex and his team show up at exactly the same time that the killer (Matthew Fox) does, and they prevent him from eliminating his target.
He shouldn't have wasted time rocking out to "Come Sail Away"
Cross realizes that the real target of this crazy killer must be international businessman Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), who employed both targets.  Why the killer needed to kill off two underlings before his primary target doesn't make much sense (wouldn't it just put Mercier on alert?), but we're in Movie Killer Country now, so you have to roll with it.  Little does Alex Cross realize how much he has inconvenienced the killer, and how personal this case is about to become...

So how does Tyler Perry do in his first true attempt at broadening his acting horizons?  Honestly, I was expecting more.  He did a decent Morgan Freeman impression when profiling the killer, but he was pretty unconvincing when he had to show grief or rage.  There's a part where somebody died, and it was because Alex Cross misjudged the situation; the way Perry moans "I was wrong" almost made it seem like he felt worse about being incorrect than the death.  It's not a wretched performance, though --- just extremely bland.  I really liked Matthew Fox's work as the killer, though.  Fox's physical transformation for the role was impressive and I thought he had some great crazy eyes. 
Unfortunately, his character was poorly developed, so Fox was relegated to being kinda creepy instead of definitely disturbing.  Edward Burns was mediocre as Cross' buddy and partner.  His emotional range was pretty limited, but his character seemed to exist only for Alex Cross to prove him wrong, so I have a hard time imagining Burns turning in a magical performance.  I will say that the chemistry between Burns and Perry was not very impressive for a pair that was supposedly best friends since kindergarten.  Rachel Nichols had a role that mainly consisted of her looking attractive, and she delivered; I wouldn't mind seeing her in a role that actually required acting, but she's perfectly adequate here as a pretty cop.   John C. McGinley was a smart casting choice for a stereotypically caustic police chief --- as much as I hate Zach Braff, I have to admit McGinley was funny on Scrubs --- but the execution was butchered.  McGinley's character winds up being not a foul-mouthed, Lethal Weapon-esque boss, but a temperate, ladder-climbing politician.  What a misuse of resources.  Cicely Tyson was fine as Cross' sassy mother in a bit part, as was Carmen Ejogo as Cross' perfect wife.  I was a little disappointed that Jean Reno didn't have more to work with, but he's reaching a point in his career where he simply gets by playing generic Europeans in Hollywood movies.
Correction: slightly bloated Europeans

I'm not sure that was the right choice to direct Alex Cross.  I'm not going to lie and say that I haven't enjoyed his work in the past --- xXx and The Fast and the Furious are both great movies to drink to --- but he's not the director I would choose for any movie that wanted to have better dialogue than "I live for this shit."  Here's the thing: you don't hire Rob Cohen to direct a movie unless you want it to be filled with dumb action.  Alex Cross has some action, sure, but it's definitely not a dumb action movie.  Even the action it has --- particularly the hand-to-hand scene with Perry and Fox --- is subpar.  It's one thing to have a camera shaking because there is allegedly so much action, but it's another thing entirely to see a lame fight scene and shake the camera to add some spice.  Cohen is incapable of line coaching or editing things together into a cohesive whole, so I can't justify his involvement in this project.  Alex Cross doesn't fit Cohen's strengths, and it emphasized his weaknesses.
Two out of three people are sitting in this action scene

Speaking of weaknesses, I have to address some of the things that irritated me about Alex Cross.  The film opens with Cross chasing a suspect in an abandoned area in Detroit (so...anywhere in Detroit).  The suspect fires at Cross, and the camera cuts to Cross, who dodges the bullet a few seconds later.  Not a good sign when the opening scene can't manage to get the basics of a firefight correct.  Anyway, Cross and his team chase down the perp.  They all congratulate each other on a good day's work, and the next scene has Cross visiting a woman at a prison, trying to convince her to not do jail time for a crime she did not commit. 
"Good work team.  Let's do very different things and zero paperwork in the next few scenes"
The next scene skips ahead almost twenty-four hours and shows Cross being a vaguely affectionate husband, child and parent.  Are there connections between these scenes?  Only Alex Cross as a character.  The initial criminal has nothing to do with the rest of the movie; the woman in prison is referenced as a means to an end toward the end of the film, and Cross' family time does little to develop him as a character.

Another odd choice had the camera follow Matthew Fox around as he planned and executed his crimes.  First of all, it appears that Fox's character (who is dismissively called "Picasso" once in the movie, and yet IMDb lists it has his character's name) is motivated by money.  To that end, it appears that he will kill to fulfill his contract.  Makes sense, right?  His first target is a sexy lady who likes MMA fights.  Naturally, he enters the octagon, acts brutal and attracts her attention.  Just as naturally, she sees a brutal stranger and invites him to her home for sexy time.  
Yes.  Invite this home.  That makes sense.
After he "tortures her to death" (because that's a scientific cause of death, Mr. Police Coroner), Picasso opts to not take anything of value from her home.  In fact, it seems like this character has his own motivations and that the money he received in his first scene was just icing on top.  Too bad nothing about his motivations are ever revealed.  If he was in it for money, why not steal from his victims?  If he was on a mission, why would he get sidetracked with Alex Cross's team?  I don't need to know his life story, but this character could have been great with maybe five more minutes of cohesive development.

The biggest problem with Alex Cross, though, is with how it handles the main character.  If Alex Cross is such a brilliant detective, shouldn't he be right some of the time?  Or maybe he should prevent crimes?  By the time this movie ends, there are about two dozen dead at the hands of this killer because Cross is consistently wrong.  If Alex Cross hadn't been so "clever," the total would have been closer to three.
Alex Cross always gets his man.  Suck it, math!
It wouldn't have been so annoying if Picasso was supposed to be some kind of genius, but he wasn't.  Except when the script implied that he was, for convenience's sake.  Instead, the resident genius in this movie is Alex Cross, whose insights come from a first-year psychology textbook.  The conclusions he draws from crime scenes do not appear to be based on any evidence, either.  How hard is it to make someone seem smart while interpreting evidence?  That's 95% of American scripted television!  He basically fails where David Caruso succeeds.  Ouch.

I'm a sucker for a good police procedural, but even I couldn't stand Alex Cross.  This was a gross misfire of a well-known and successful property.  It wasn't a bad choice to change the tone of this series --- who doesn't like a little action with their cerebral crime solving? --- but it failed as a fun action movie and as a procedural.  It would be easy to blame Tyler Perry for dropping the ball that Morgan Freeman carried so effortlessly, but the real problem came from the script and direction.  This is less "Don't ever cross Alex Cross" and more "Don't ever watch Alex Cross."

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