Tyler Perry is woefully miscast as James Patterson’s star detective in Rob Cohen’s mean-spirited Alex Cross, featuring a wildly possessed performance by Matthew Fox as a subhuman killer whose “true calling” is pain—a bounty which he inflicts upon viewers of this movie.
Perry, an unlikely action star out of his comedy comfort zone is simply not believable in this role. As a detective tracking a killer his performance doesn’t work; as a family man under duress he fares slightly better. In attempting to stretch he chose the wrong character, while Fox, on the other hand, walks away with (what little there is of) the picture.
Stepping into the shoes of the same character nicely filled by Morgan Freeman in 1997’s Kiss the Girls and 2001’s Along Came a Spider (both B-movies like this one) the much younger Perry lacks Freeman’s gravitas. Not that the role is much to write home about, a brilliant Detroit forensics expert (he hasn’t graduated yet to the FBI heights) who when not tracking killers plays husband to a pregnant wife (Carmen Ejogo), son to a feisty mother (Cicely Tyson, making castles in the air out of nothing) and father to a sensitive daughter.
The plot is the usual cat-and-mouse standard fare: a psycho killer who has considerable intelligence, means, weapons and most importantly, sadism, is wreaking havoc on Detroit. He’s a tatted up lethal weapon, a wild animal prone to WWE-style cage fighting and—you guessed it—charcoal sketches (!). As the murderous whack job, Fox eats every scene alive, slimmed down to mere sinew and jerking around with all manner of tics, he’s a guy who likes to drug his victims into paralysis so they can feel their own mutilations, specializing in gleefully removing fingertips. In a very unlikely pairing, a handsome Edward Burns turns up as Cross’ childhood best buddy and beat partner, called upon to restate obvious clues and cliches like, “You need to get inside his head. Think like he does.”
The killer is soon dubbed “Picasso” for obvious reasons (he’s quite the artiste) and soon his motives are revealed to be targeting the city’s wealthiest citizens (I think), including a super rich magnate (Jean Reno). But then the screenplay switches gears as he begins to stalk Cross in the usual movie formula of the killer who spends more time elaborately toying with the cop than actually killing. With his family in the Cross hairs you can guess what’s coming next.
Rob Cohen can be an expert action director (The Fast and the Furious), but this time out there’s nothing impressive on display, just a routine cop picture without a discernible style, all climaxes and filler in a screenplay loaded with contrivance. As a director, he doesn’t work to cover these. Two particular offenses include a sudden car accident that comes out of nowhere and a final sequence that is beyond laughable, where one character—the old movie trope of the talking criminal—reveals mouthfuls of incriminating exposition about drug running (introduced right at the end, not earlier) for no good reason when we know reality dictates that he’d just hang up the phone. And John C. McGinley shows up as the jaded police commander straight off the cardboard shelf in a by the numbers script from Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson.
Disappointingly, Alex Cross doesn’t even manage a solid climax as hero and villain go mano-a-mano on the balcony of an extravagantly decaying old Motor City movie palace, a muddle of poorly shot, incoherent action. Who is doing what to whom is impossible to say, handheld and fast cut to the extreme. With gray exteriors of shooting location Cleveland doubling for Detroit, the film looks unappealing, courtesy of Ricardo Della Rosa’s lensing.
1 1/2 stars.