The first two adaptations of James Patterson’s famed character Dr. Alex Cross Kiss the Girls and Along Came the Spider were basically souped up Law & Order episodes with grislier details and the gravitas of Morgan Freeman. The latest incarnation bluntly titled Alex Cross follows the same format with the added bonus of being absurdly nonsensical to a near-parody level. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious XXX) finds a solid leading man in the Hollywood titan Tyler Perry but it all goes to waste in a hyper-stylized laughter-inducing translation of Patterson’s mystery novels.
Alex Cross picks up in the early days of the psychologist-turned-detective’s life as Cross (Perry) traverses the crime-ridden landscape of Detroit with his snappy sidekicks Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols). For a homicide detective things are picture perfect — Cross has a family two kids (and a third on the way) and his mystery-busting team is always wearing smiles. Everything comes crashing down for Cross when “Picasso” (Matthew Fox) comes to town an assassin who enjoys toying with his targets and law enforcing pursuers as much as getting the job done. After discovering the meticulous murder of a businessman and his daughter Cross sifts through clues to pick apart the mind of his violent madman but when he gets too close Picasso makes things personal. That doesn’t make Cross too happy.
The major problem with Alex Cross is that Cohen handles the material like one of his previous action movies. But Cross isn’t an action character — he’s a thinker. Rarely does the detective manage to dig up evidence from a crime scene or better yet visit a crime scene. The search for Picasso comprised of lots of poetic waxing (“Maybe he hates his mother. Maybe he hates his father. Maybe… he’s a sociopath”) random shoot outs (are there other police Detroit other then Alex & Co.?) and plenty of growling threats between Cross and Fox’s muscled corpse of an assassin. Occasionally Ed Burns steps in with a pop culture quip ripped straight from a Google search of what “the kids are into these days.” Name-dropping Gandalf and “muggles” in one zinger sheesh.
Attempting to survive the lackluster script Perry gives a decent performance thanks to his towering build and the general warmth he’s nurtured in his own personal projects. His action side leaves a bit to be desired — intimidation requires more than doing someone’s best Jack Bauer impression. Cohen doesn’t help him shooting Alex Cross like one extended whip pan. There is shakycam and then there is Alex Cross‘ insistence on turning set pieces into photographic spin art. Fox who transformed himself for the role works as the crazy-eyed psycho. If there was a moment to understand his motivations or how he’s able to plan his elaborate plans (in one sequence he swims up a water pipe into the bathroom of an office building).
Alex Cross is fun but for all the wrong reasons. Every element is so incredibly mishandled the lunacy circles back from “bad bad” to “good bad.” Even an entrance by French actor Jean Reno elicits laughs just because it’s hard to believe everything on screen is really happening. Intended or not Alex Cross is one of the stranger movies of the year a rebooted franchise that decided to go off the rails from minute one. Maybe for the better.