Thursday, October 18, 2012
Matthew Fox plays a cold-hearted, steely-eyed psychopath in Alex Cross, and darn if it’s not one of the best villain performances of the year. His character, Picasso, loves to inflict pain, and no worries if you’re the squeamish type: The PG-13 rating ensures things will not get too graphic. Too bad Picasso’s motivation is never revealed, and the rest of the movie is so poorly told that you’ll be shocked at its inexplicable ineptitude. The first hour is a standard detective thriller. Detroit Detective Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is good at his job, and with his wife (Carmen Ejogo) pregnant, he’s ready to take an FBI desk job in Washington D.C. But first he and his partners Tommy (Edward Burns) and Monica (Rachel Nichols) investigate a quadruple homicide at a wealthy young woman’s (Stephanie Jacobsen) home. Because Cross is intuitive in a Sherlock Holmes sort of way, he deciphers a charcoal drawing left by the killer and tracks down Picasso, a thin but thoroughly vicious madman. Cross also learns that Picasso’s main target is a French business developer named Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), though why Mercier is a target is a mystery for far too long.
After all this is set up, Picasso kills one of Alex’s family members. The remaining 40 minutes follows Alex, heretofore a dutiful, responsible man, as he goes crazy vigilante, breaking laws and risking his life to find Picasso. When you’ve already lost so much, risking what you have left is foolhardy and unrealistic.
Worse, Mercier becomes all but an afterthought, and pretty much everything from the first hour is pushed aside until the cozy ending loosely ties things together.
Story detours aside – this is loosely based on James Patterson’s novel Cross – the biggest obstacle director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) faces is never giving Picasso a reason for any of the things he does. Aside from seeing him collect money in the beginning, no other reason is offered for Picasso’s actions. What’s more, when given the opportunity for more money and valuables he has no interest; if we’re supposed to believe money drives his actions, he needs to desire it more. This is not to say Picasso should be a sympathetic martyr like the bad guys in Taken 2, but even the smallest motive would’ve gone a long way toward narrative credibility.
Many of the action scenes are adequately done, except for the finale, which is a headache-inducing handheld camera over-edited mess. Doesn’t matter, though: By then the story has been so laughably bad that you’ll have checked out of anything that matters. Better yet, don’t bother checking in at all.
Fox, best known from his turn as the hero Jack Shepherd on Lost, went through what’s been described as an amazing physical transformation to get into the role of Picasso. He lost 40 pounds over the course of five months, doing hard-core circuit training with celebrity trainer Simon Waterson. As Picasso, he is all creepy and disturbing sinew, but in the end, he’s creepy and disturbing for reasons that evaded director Cohen, and thus are completely lost on the audience. Creepy is just not enough to carry the picture.
The Cross character has appeared on the big screen twice before, both times played by Morgan Freeman, first in the 1997 Ashley Judd-vehicle Kiss the Girls and then in 2001’s Along Came a Spider. Maybe the theory that Cross, in this turn a family man protecting his pretty young wife, was too young to be played by Freeman, now in his 70s. It makes Perry a fairly interesting choice to carry the Cross forward and take on the role of intellectual black detective, because he’s built an empire by playing the comically angry black granny Madea.
The Madea franchise has a core following that often leads Perry’s films to open number one at the box office, so if Alex Cross, featuring Perry in a competent performance as an action hero, opens strong it will not be a surprise. But if it continues to do well, hell has frozen over.
Alex Cross 1 ½ • Directed by Rob Cohen • Starring Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Carmen Ejogo, Edward Burns and Rachel Nichols • Rated PG-13 • 101 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinema, Maya Cinema. Mary Duan contributed to this review.