Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is among Detroit's most experienced police detectives. He is assigned to investigate homicides and other serious crimes plaguing the city. PhD educated, Detective Cross is a renowned expert in forensic psychology and crime scene analysis. Cross is also a dedicated, caring family man. He lives in the suburbs of Detroit and is happily married to his beautiful wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), and is raising two children with a third on the way. Cross is strongly contemplating moving to Washington DC as he was recently offered a high profile job working for the FBI which includes a significant pay raise and much better benefits. Maria however wants to stay in Detroit because of the quality public schools and such.
The film begins right in the middle of an action sequence, with Detective Cross chasing a big, burly bad guy through the stinking sewers. There's no explanation as to who the suspect is and we hardly have any idea what this is all about. Two of Cross's partners, Thomas Kane (Edward Burns), and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols) assist him in stopping and eventually apprehending this individual, which includes shooting the suspect to slow him down.
In case you are wondering, that above sequence has absolutely no relevance to the main plot. Anyway, Cross's latest assignment is to investigate a string of gruesome murders.
The latest target: a wealthy socialite named Fan Yau (Stephanie Jacobsen). Ms. Yau is watching an underground ultimate fighting match. After a grueling match, a winner has emerged. That winner has caught her fancy.
Ms. Yau loves a winner and she invites him to her luxurious mansion, which is heavily guarded by armed bodyguards. What was supposed to be a night of debauchery would end up leading to her doom. The stranger she has invited to her house lures her to her bedroom, seduces her, and then ties her to her bed. While she naively thinks this is some sort of bondage game, he has other more devious things in mind. He uses a hypodermic needle to inject some drug into his victim to sedate her. He then cuts off her fingers - one by one.
The maniac behind this is Picasso (Matthew Fox), a contract killer who kills for both money and pleasure. With his shaved head, emaciated face, and muscular yet slender build, Picasso looks like Jason Statham's evil twin brother. He is also an amateur cage fighter who likes to exercise completely nude and who has a penchant for art. His calling card is a charcoal drawing of each victim he leaves behind at the scene of the crime.
Detective Cross is called to the scene to investigate the circumstances surrounding the killing. Cross is able to discover the killer's methods and quickly deduce Picasso's likely next target: a German businessman named Erich Nunemarcher (Werner Daehn). Detective Cross arrives at Nunemarcher's office to warn him of the possible threat on his life. But Nunemarcher dismisses Cross's claims.
Turns out Cross is right as Picasso has somehow made his way through the building where the businessman resides. Picasso takes out Nuemarcher's armed bodyguards but Cross, with the help of Kane and Ashe, manages to thwart the assassination attempt.
Cross's diagnosis of Picasso is that of a "stimulus seeking, sociopathic narcissist." But this time, Detective Cross may have finally met his match. Enraged at having lost the opportunity to make the hit, Picasso has his sights set on someone else - someone near and dear to Alex Cross.
What started out as a cat-and-mouse game between predator and prey has turned into a battle of wits far deadlier as the stakes have risen. Cross's professional job is about to bleed into his personal life when his family becomes the target of Picasso's wrath. In particular, Picasso has his sights set on the lovely Maria. It's a race against time. Can Alex Cross save his wife and stop this madman before he strikes again?
Picasso is about to learn that you never cross Detective Cross. Because if you do, you will pay for it dearly with your life. Cross his heart and you will hope to die.
Alex Cross is an honest undertaking to reboot the popular Detective Cross franchise based on the bestselling series by James Patterson. Morgan Freeman originally portrayed Detective Cross in two earlier films: 1997's Kiss the Girls and 2001's Along Came a Spider. The Detective Cross of the Morgan Freeman era was cerebral and had wisdom beyond his years and experience. This time, the filmmakers try to garner a new generation of Alex Cross fans by making him younger, tougher, more assertive, and a bit more hip. The filmmakers took a risk casting Tyler Perry to play the titled character. Perry did not have a lot of acting experience beyond the self-made Madea films and he didn't exactly prove himself to be the type that could handle physical situations. He also lacked the credentials of more established actors, e.g. Idris Elba. Casting Tyler Perry did not exactly pay dividends - Alex Cross was a massive flop at the box office. But I don't place too much blame on Tyler Perry; Perry was not as bad as the critics would lead you to believe. I think the lackluster direction, prosaic script, and unimaginative plot & character development are all contributing factors.
So how did Perry do as Alex Cross? It's a mixed bag at the very best. Sometimes, he's actually pretty convincing. Other times, it looks like he's struggling to find the right mannerisms of his character. I will say that Perry has some appeal as the protagonist. He handles himself fairly well during the dramatic scenes and does a decent job giving Cross some dimension and making him more human than supercop.
It's nice to see Perry out of his Madea drag. I have never seen his Madea films and don't intend to, they are simply not my cup of tea. Anyway, Perry tries to add his own spin to his character by focusing on his family life. He portrays Alex Cross as a family man first and foremost. We get to meet members of Alex Cross's family including his mother Nana (Cicely Tyson) who relies on good old-fashioned values to keep life simple as well as his children. I can appreciate Perry, the filmmakers (and author James Patterson) wanting to make Cross more accessible by showing his personal side. With that said, I would like to have seen more screen time devoted to his family. You don't get to know his family as much as you would like so when there is a tragedy involving a close family member, you don't quite feel Cross's pain and loss.
But while the filmmakers want to make Alex Cross relatable to us film audiences, they also attempt to make him out to be a kickass detective adept at combat fighting. It seems like this movie was an experiment to try and transform Tyler Perry to be the next leading man of action movies and crime dramas. Like the mantle has been passed from the likes of Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood to Tyler Perry. However, you can see Perry struggling with the action choreography, as if he's trying to keep up but needs to stop and catch his breath. While he does decent during the dramatic scenes, when the action kicks into gear, Perry doesn't quite have what it takes to portray a hardboiled detective in pursuit of justice.
For example, there's this one scene where Alex Cross tries to prevent an assassination by jumping in front of the human target, using his own body as a shield to protect that person and taking the bullet meant for her. It looks clumsy and I couldn't help but think of those images of an overweight person running in slow motion, accompanied by the music of Vangelis's Chariots of Fire theme.
This Alex Cross is also a bit meaner compared to Morgan Freeman's version. In one scene, Alex Cross and his partner throw a suspect around in order to get some information, and Cross proceeds to hit the suspect in the leg with a golf club. Yeah, great job violating his civil rights there, Cross. And great job forgetting to read him his Miranda rights too. I think the problem with this scene is just the absurdity of it all. We understand that Cross is full of rage when he does this, but he's still a detective and it seems like he completely disregarded the rulebook here.
I think Perry really wanted to make a good impression and wanted to show he could play a character that was not just for comedic laughs. He wanted to show that he could be taken seriously as a legitimate leading man. But ultimately, he lacks conviction for this role.
Matthew Fox makes for a decent nemesis, though I think he tries a little too hard at times. Picasso is a cold-blooded assassin/serial killer who revels in agonizing his victims. He likes to torture his victims before ultimately killing them. Yet Picasso is almost like a character straight out of a comic book. I wonder if Fox purposefully tried to make Picasso into a supervillian of sorts. He's a strange hybrid of Heath Ledger's
the Joker, Rutger Hauer's John Ryder, and Woody Harrelson's Mickey Knox. But while Picasso has more in common with serial killers, his personality resembles that of the Joker who taunts Alex Cross's vengeful Batman.
Within five minutes of the dastardly villain's introduction, we see Fox do the evil wide-eyed stare. Really, it's the most clichéd characteristic habit of any supervillain. All he needed was a moustache to twirl. Although his character doesn't appear to have any noticeable accent, he also speaks in a way that doesn't sound like his natural voice. He talks in a more deliberate tone, placing emphasis on certain words and syllables. I'm not sure if it's a completely effective technique, but it does make audiences pay closer attention to him, like he means business. I also enjoyed the interaction between Cross and Picasso, especially when Picasso taunts Cross over the phone. Picasso may seem silly at times, but don't take him seriously at your own peril.
Matthew Fox is almost unrecognizable. He really dedicates himself to this role and undergoes a significant physical transformation. Fox gives a foaming-at-the-mouth kind of performance. In a strange way, despite his character bordering on nonsense at times, I enjoyed Fox's performance. Fox is fun to watch, however ridiculous his character may be. This is the type of role that Gary Busey or Wings Hauser would have embraced back in the day. It's not uncommon for the villain to be more interesting than the hero and to steal his spotlight. But here, it's not even a contest. Between Fox and Perry, Fox wins for the extreme method acting he undertakes.
Now, Tyler Perry's transformation from Madea to a badass action detective is not quite as persuasive for the reasons I've already mentioned.
The rest of the supporting cast give routine performances and most of them are not worth mentioning as they don't get a lot of screen time except for Edward Burns. For whatever reason, I liked his character. Edward Burns did a good job as Cross's longtime partner and childhood friend, Thomas Kane. The two have solid chemistry and you can see the mutual respect they have for each other. You get the sense that they indeed have been longtime friends and have developed a strong trust between the two. Burns injects a lot of personality and humor into his character. There are times when Burns even outshines Perry. I remember Burns playing a fairly similar character in the 2001 thriller 15 Minutes, and though he played essentially a sidekick to Robert De Niro's main hero, he gets his moments in the sun. It's a familiar situation for Burns here and I found myself even rooting for his character more than Alex Cross on occasion. I see Kane as sort of the Kato to Cross's Green Hornet. I could see Thomas Kane getting his own spinoff movie.
Alex Cross is a watchable thriller but half-hearted direction and an unimaginative script full of seen-it-all-before moments prevent it from being something that could have been much better. The main problem is that the storyline and plot twists are all just too easy to follow. We have the inevitable plot device that fuels Cross's vengeance which is way too foreseeable, even if you have never read any of James Patterson's novels. As they say, obvious plot twist is obvious. But if you have seen enough of these movies, you know that when the hero's wife is pregnant, something bad is probably going to happen to her.
Alex Cross is full of non sequiturs. In one instance, we see Cross playing chess with a young female incarcerated for a crime she apparently didn't commit, but she took the rap for somebody else. It seemed to have potential for a subplot, but the filmmakers do nothing to expand on this. In fact, her character is never seen again. In another instance, we learn that Kane is having a clandestine affair with one of his colleagues and Cross is suspicious of that behavior. Again, what's the point?
Alex Cross is moderately action packed, filled with the requisite shoot-outs, chases, and explosions. The action scenes are not bad and even keep you on the edge of your seat at times, but it's nothing you haven't seen before and done better. Despite the PG-13 rating, there are a couple of grisly images. And the scene where Picasso seduces and subsequently incapacitates Fan Yau is a bit unsettling. It's actually a pretty well done scene without relying on a lot of blood and gore.
Alex Cross is not really sure what it wants to be or which direction it wants to go. The original Alex Cross movies were more slow burn suspense thrillers. This revamped version of Alex Cross attempts to be a faster paced action thriller while respecting its crime drama roots. So on one hand, it wants to be an exciting action film. On the other hand, it also wants to be a thoughtful police procedural thriller as we see plenty of scenes of Detectives Cross and Kane investigating crime scenes and trying to gather evidence and speculating as to how the victims died. We see Cross meticulously reconstructing the scene of the crime, ascertaining information as to what happened to the victim and the cause of his/her death. It straddles both genres and in the end, it can't really make up its mind so it falls short of being both a truly adroit crime thriller and an efficient action film. If the script was better written and the direction more skilled, this approach may have worked.
Alex Cross doesn't live up to its potential. There are glimpses of a very solid movie in there, but it doesn't attain what it wants to accomplish. It's a modest action/crime thriller that doesn't produce a lot of spark. But in spite of its numerous issues, Alex Cross is still a tolerable watch. It has some strengths, though it's not the popcorn entertainment it aspires to be. But in defense of Alex Cross, the performances are earnest though imperfect and there is some well-done suspense.
Overall, Alex Cross is not a bad film, but just a little too mundane for its own good. Yes, the movie is certainly flawed, but it's not quite the disaster that other film critics made it out to be. I have seen some truly terrible films and Alex Cross should be nowhere near the bottom of the list. I acknowledge that both the cast and the crew gave it their all and put forth a great effort to make this project work, but it really is a dime-a-dozen thriller. It's like watching an extended episode of CSI or Bones with a bigger budget and more boom. But the stories are the same.
I probably gave this film a better rating than it deserves. And yes, the finished product does not match its potential. In the end, this film earns a marginal recommendation from me. Alex Cross is worth a rental on a rainy weekend afternoon but I would not go out of my way to track this film down or put it on the top of your to see list unless you are a diehard fan of the Alex Cross novels or James Patterson himself.