Tyler Perry as Dr. Alex Cross
Matthew Fox as Picasso
Edward Burns as Tommy Kane
Rachel Nichols as Monica Ashe
Cicely Tyson as Nana Mama
Carmen Ejogo as Maria Cross
Giancarlo Esposito as Daramus Holiday
John C. McGinley as Richard Brookwell
Jean Reno as Leon Mercier
Warner Daehn as Erich Nunemacher
Stephanie Jacobsen as Fan Yau
Jessalyn Wanlim as Paramita Megawati
How bad is “Alex Cross”? Even CBS, the home of the mindless police procedural, wouldn’t touch this thing with a ten foot pole. Filled to the brim with bad performances, worse dialogue, ridiculous plot contrivances and inept camera work, it’s a sincere struggle to find anything worthwhile in this 1 hour 41 minute waste of time. Amazingly not a single thing in this film has been done right, from its inept tagline (“Never Cross Alex Cross”) to the awful end credits song (“I, Alex Cross” by Trick Trick, which must be heard to be believed, and not in a good way). If you went out of your way to make the worst police procedural you possibly could, you would be hard pressed to top “Alex Cross.”
Okay, so that’s the bile out of the way, what’s the meat? “Alex Cross” is somewhere between a prequel and a reboot of the film series adaptation of James Patterson’s popular forensic psychologist ass-kicker. Prolific writer-director Tyler Perry steps into his first headlining action role, replacing Morgan Freeman as the titular detective, taking us through the events which eventually transformed Cross into the taciturn serial-killer headshrinker of those later stories.
When we meet him here he is already a successful homicide detective in Detroit, known for his observational skills and quick mind, with a loving wife (Carmen Ejogo) and family. Actually, that’s not entirely true. When we meet him here, he is chasing a serial rapist through an abandoned building with the rest of his squad (Ed Burns, Rachel Nichols) in a boring, badly staged action sequence designed to hide how much is Perry and how much is a stunt man, and filled dialogue which was already clichéd when Michael Douglas spat it on the “Streets of San Francisco” in the ’70s. Like a novel, first lines are important, they set the tone for what you’re going to be experiencing. When your first lines are “Is this how you want to die!” and “Up yours!” don’t bother expecting much.
Even with expectations set low, director Rob Cohen (“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”) does his best to meet them, or worse. Whatever the opposite of exceeding expectations is. Cohen has never been a great director, but at his peak he has been capable of delivering polished if empty entertainment, spending most of the 00’s doing so. “Alex Cross” isn’t even polished, even taking into account it’s relatively low budget for this sort of film.
Some of that can be laid on the script, adapted from Patterson’s novel “Cross” by Kerry Williamson and Marc Moss, who had also written the previous Alex Cross film “Along Came a Spider.” On top of its incredibly bad dialog (see above), it often skips important narrative beats or tries to rush them out the door as quickly as possible. Cross’s final take down of the film’s shadowy villain occurs as an afterthought, staring at a computer monitor, and the rest of the film works about as well with major characters exiting off-screen with little preamble. Major plot points are often tossed on the wall as well, falling back on Cross to just intuit what to do or where to go next. Cross’s first attempt to psychoanalyze professional killer Picasso (Matthew Fox) is a monologue filled with every possible profiler cliché in the book all jammed together so haphazardly the best actor in the world couldn’t possibly get it out in a convincing manner.
Tyler Perry is not the best actor in the world. He’s not terrible, but his range is limited for a character that is expected to swerve from the peaks of happiness to the depths of rage and grief after Picasso begins targeting his friends and family members. It’s impossible to buy him beating a suspect or investigating a crime scene, not because he’s Tyler Perry but because he’s not Alex Cross. A lot of that blame can be laid at the feet of Moss and Williamson’s screenplay which offers little for anyone to grab ahold of.
The proof of that is plainly visible in just how bad everyone else is. Edward Burns seems to be walking in his sleep as he growls out standard cop-partner dialog, but John C. McGinley tries his best to give Burns a run for his money as ‘the Chief.’ No one, but no one can top Warner Daehn as a German finance executive who is only capable of speaking AT FULL VOLUME!
The only person who comes out relatively unscathed is Fox, who lost so much weight for the role he has become eerily reptilian looking; a look he plays up with wide, unblinking eyes and staccato delivery. His introduction is eerie and controlled in a way nothing else in the film is. Eventually though, even he falls prey to “Alex Cross’s” gravity, falling into a labyrinth of goofy villain monologues after his first confrontation with Cross. Monologues that only increase in absurdity and incomprehension as time goes on, turning him from the silently capable professional to the guy who just won’t shut up. And for no reason except to make him seem interesting he is given the tick of drawing expressionist renderings of his victims and leaving them for Cross to find. Because why bother being interesting when just seeming that way is good enough?
So many of the choices, from acting to story structure, are so badly made it’s impossible to blame anyone but the director. Ricardo Della Rosa’s cinematography is uneven and action sequences are often slovenly edited with crass strobe effects laid on top which do nothing but cover up the visuals. Cross’s final climactic duel with his nemesis is so badly put together it is often impossible to make out exactly who is doing what to who.
As much as it would be nice to find an upside here, it’s just not possible. It’s not really the actors’ fault, but they’re not strong enough to lift themselves above the mire, either. Much was made of Idris Elba being replaced by Perry before filming began; now that looks like a blessing in disguise for him. There’s nothing here you can’t get from an episode of “Criminal Minds” and it will probably be better than this.