‘Alex Cross’ Review
‘Alex Cross‘ is a movie that is almost as insane as its villain — and its villain is a psychotic master assassin who poses as an mixed martial artist and enters himself in an underground fight club to seduce a woman so he can gain access to her house and torture her to death by cutting off her fingers one at a time. It’s not particularly “good” — but it is kind of interesting, in that way that crazy people often are.
The film is a prequel of sorts to two thrillers from the late ’90s and early ’00s: ‘Kiss the Girls’ and ‘Along Came a Spider,’ both based on novels from a popular James Patterson series, both starring Morgan Freeman as detective and forensic psychologist Alex Cross. This installment features TV/film/theater/drag mogul Tyler Perry as Cross as a younger man, working for the Detroit Police Department as the head of a special team of investigators which includes his childhood friend Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), and Monica Asche (Rachel Nichols), who’s carrying on a secret affair with Tommy on the sly. They have real feelings for one another, but they can’t ever let Cross find out. Because that can’t happen! Because it will jeopardize the safety of everyone on the team! Or something.
The team’s latest case involves a murder by the aforementioned psychotic assassin, played with go-for-broke abandon by Matthew Fox, who begins the film successfully completing his Rube Goldbergian hit on an Asian businesswoman. Surveying the crime scene some time later, Tommy is certain he’s looking at the aftermath of some kind of gang assassination carried out by a team of hitmen. No, Cross gravely insists, this was the work of just one man.
But what a man! Fox’s character — credited as “Picasso,” although I don’t recall anyone actually calling him that in the film — has a particular set of skills that would make Liam Neeson weep with envy. We’ve already established that he’s a great MMA fighter and ladies man. In no particular order, he’s also: a scuba diver, an expert marksman, a locksmith, a military tactician, an uncatchable cat burglar, a computer hacker, and the artist of a series of very accomplished charcoal drawings that also work like Mad Magazine Fold-Ins. The only thing he can’t apparently do is eat: Fox, who lost something like 35 pounds for the role, looks like a skeleton with muscles. But when you’re training to be the world’s best MMA-fighting, scuba diving sniper who has time for three squares a day?
Some folks scoffed at the idea of Perry, who’s best known for broad comedies or domestic melodramas, taking the role of a no-nonsense know-it-all police profiler. But with his stocky build, deep bass voice, and stern eyes, Perry makes a convincing Detroit cop. The unconvincing part is the movie itself, which is practically bipolar in its wild fluctuations of mood and tone. In one scene, Cross and his team trade banter like characters in a buddy cop comedy; in the next, Fox’s Picasso is brutally murdering major characters, and everyone is sitting around Cross’ house sobbing. The violence is sadistic, the storyline about an assassin out to kill a pompous French industrialist (Jean Reno) is pure ‘Scooby-Doo’ camp, and the scenes of Cross’ home life, featuring Cicely Tyson as his advice dispensing “Nana Mama,” are straight out of a Christian themed soap opera.
‘Alex Cross” “mystery” is laughably simplistic, and the fight scenes between Perry and Fox are so shaky they look like they were filmed in the middle of an earthquake. Still, there’s still something kind of admirably bizarre about this movie, which was directed by “The Fast and the Furious”‘s Rob Cohen with a certain bemused detachment from the material. He has a lot of fun with Fox’s character — who might be the most entertainingly nutty onscreen baddie since Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country For Old Men.’ Even as he’s doing terrible things to innocent people, there’s something kind of admirable about the flair with which he goes about his work. His charcoal work isn’t bad, but he’s really the Picasso of murder — the thing he does with a rocket launcher and an elevated train really takes paid assassinations to a whole new level of inventiveness and artistry. If only the rest of the film was as clever — and not quite so schizophrenic.‘Alex Cross’ hits theaters on October 19th.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’