The action film genre is right mire nowadays. I could easily list ten essential, genre defining films from the heydays of the 1980s with many a classic and individual movie having their own memorable personalities, but could you do it with the same type of film today? Not so much. Most action films have next to no effort put into them to make them a spectacular event for audiences. Alex Cross is one of them.
Detective Doctor Alex Cross (Tyler Perry, Good Deeds) is the best head in Detroit Police department. He’s a detective genius, able to spot the smallest detail. A good egg and family man, he is loved by all. However when his investigations into the case of a murdered out-of-town businesswoman draw the attention of the assassin Picasso (Matthew Fox, Speed Racer), Cross is stuck in a deadly crossfire putting both his team and family at risk. Putting aside his personal tragedy, the man has to pull himself together and bring Picasso to justice.
I’ll be honest, the only knowledge I have of Tyler Perry is the trailers of the cross dressing angry old lady character he has written and starred in about 10 movies of (imagine an African American Mrs. Brown and you’re not far wrong). Needless to say playing a serious character like Cross must be a massive gear change for him, and one which doesn’t work out. Here, well… he’s required to act in a serious role, and let’s just say he has a very limited range; there’s not much difference in his facial expression between caring father, angry cop, or mourning individual. He does have a decent amount of charisma but it’s spread thin, and not injected properly into peak moments of emotion.
Fox makes his acting comeback after having a break since the end of Lost and is easily the highlight of the film; as the psychopathic killer assassin Picasso, he is the best thing about Alex Cross. You can tell Fox has worked on his physique for the role looking lean but still muscular. He looks like a mad man. He always looks sick with his shrunken eyes and displays tics & ranting like any good psycho would. It’s like a cartoonish take of a villain you would see on Dexter, but in a good way. The man has many idiosyncrasies, and hypnotises you into seeing the odd trait he displays next. If Fox and his character were in a better film with the same level of performance, we’d easily be talking about Picasso as a cult villain but he’ll be largely forgotten thanks to this otherwise forgettable film.
There are some happily familiar faces in the rest of the cast but one of them is not Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan). Never been a fan of his one dour facial expression or his whispery, scratching voice and as Cross’ sidekick he doesn’t really do much to convince you he’s an essential character to proceedings. Jean Reno (Leon) is always welcome but his screen time is severely limited as a rich French businessman and he has a really bloody annoying knack of referring to Cross every time he’s on screen as ‘Detective Doctor Cross’ in what can only be time wasting. Scrubs‘ John C. McGinley and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito are memorable enough as the chief of Detroit police and a local gang boss respectively in small roles.
As much as I like various traits in characters in film, the man Alex Cross simply has too many to make a fully functioning individual; over the course of the film, he goes from Sherlock Holmes-style super-sluth, able to detect the smallest detail, to family man, to a Punisher-esque vigilante, to moral leader all in the course of 100 minutes. Why would a man of such obvious intelligence be inclined to go on a testosterone rammed, revenge fuelled rampage? It’s obvious he’s pushed to the limit after his personal tragedy but there’s hardly any build to it – it just happens. It’s like Alex Cross is a superhero without any superpowers; complete and perfect in every possible way.
Director Rob Cohen (The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor) has a bit of a track record making average and/or below radar action films and Alex Cross is no different. His vision of Cross’ world is a bit bland; he plays Detroit as a crime ridden dive in the script, yet it looks reasonably fine (not an attractive location and not first choice on the holiday list but not horrible either); there are some signs of urban decay, especially in the luscious set piece of the car park built into a massive crumbling old theatre, yet apart from chasing a criminal at the start, and meeting with Esposito’s character, there isn’t much to suggest Detroit is the crime haven from Cohen’s vision.
The action isn’t quite there either; apart from a sexually charged Picasso assassination at the start of the film, there isn’t a great deal to satisfy anyone’s action tastebuds. There are some neat tricks, like Picasso using a high security finance building’s water supply to enter, and using hi-tech explosives on unsuspecting policemen to get away, but the rest is vanilla. There’s no big action set piece or stunt to make this film stand out from the rest of average action films from the last couple years, and it shows. A bit odd when you consider Cohen’s filmography and cinema niche.
Both the script and overall plot of the film are also disgustingly lazy; Cross is set up as a detective and there are a few murder/mystery aspects but it’s a normal point A to point B with no real effort to make an interesting plot. Everything is on a plate and in plain sight for the audience so you don’t feel like a million dollars for solving the film’s plot. Some of the stereotyping of certain cultures and nationalities also isn’t going to go down too well, and it makes you wonder why they included it at all when it’s obvious it’s only going to wind people up.
A limited and obvious detective story headed up by a challenged Perry does not make enthralling viewing. There’s nothing particularly wrong, or bad, with Alex Cross but then there’s nothing amazing (apart from Fox as Picasso) to make it worth watching. It’s a plain, dull action thriller which we already have enough of. Ah well, another one to stoke the fire with.