Alex Cross was 100 minutes I’ll never get back
‘Alex Cross’ falls flat in just about every way. What should have been a fairly straightforward cop story devolved into a hot mess of uneven acting, odd camera work and Matthew Fox as you’ve never seen him before.
Let me start with a confession: I have never read the series of novels by James Patterson that Alex Cross was based on. I understand they are pretty popular, and enjoy Patterson’s cameos when he shows up on Castle, but my experience with the source material only goes as far as the two Morgan Freeman movies with the same character. But I don’t need to know the source material to know that Alex Cross is a horrible representation of it.
Tyler Perry plays the titular detective, the leader of some form of priority homicide team of the Detroit Police Department. It’s never particularly clear how “priority,” but his team consists of his best friend Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) and Tommy’s not-as-secret-as-he-thinks girlfriend Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), along with a team of tech-guys and other sundry helpers. They are tasked with tracking down a mysterious assassin (Matthew Fox) who is systematically attacking the corporate leadership of a foreign company that’s taken an interest in Detroit’s resurgence.
There’s really not one aspect of the film I was particularly impressed by. The acting was incredibly uneven; there were some solid performances in secondary roles – Cicely Tyson in particular and even Giancarlo Esposito in one scene – but the top half of the billing was unimpressive (except for Fox, but more on that later). Jean Reno, as the assassin’s primary target, just sort of sits on the screen. Even when Reno has been tasked with playing over the top roles – like Rollerball – he’s delivered. Here, however, he’s just … there, existing on the screen, taking up space without really doing anything.
The narrative was a bit all over the place. A significant character was killed off-screen, and was only mentioned once more for the entire film. Cross’ must be the only wife of a cop who had little interest in seeing her husband take the safe, desk job no matter what upheaval it might cause the family. The chief of police was a joke. These are just a few examples; I could keep going, but you get the point.
Alex Cross was also a difficult film to watch. I don’t mind the shaky-cam approach nearly as much as others do, but Director of Photography Ricardo Della Rosa uses it entirely too much during chase and fight sequences. He also attempted a couple of odd, artistic bits incorporated with Fox’s character that fell flat. It isn’t even the complex shots that didn’t work. What should have been a fairly straightforward shot, or at the very least a 360 pan around the group, resulted in an odd scene where the camera moved back and forth around the characters. It’s not something I would have even noticed – other than the feeling of disorientation; and when the uninitiated notice bad camera work, you know you’re in trouble.
But that’s not to say the film was all bad. Cicely Tyson is still Cicely freaking Tyson. Her character wasn’t around much, but owned the screen when she was. And it was interesting to watch Fox’s take on the assassin Picasso – at least identified that way by IMDb if not in the film itself. The character calls for something I’ve not seen from Fox before: an unconstrained psycho. I’m not sure it works completely, but it is fun to watch the experiment.
If you pull everything out of the film, there is a pretty solid story underneath. Enough of one, actually, to pique my interest in picking up one of James Patterson’s novels. It’s a shame that the story is translated to the screen in such a sub par way.