Imagine being an actor. You struggle for years, waiting tables, doing shitty theater, grubbing for commercial roles, then one day, out of the blue, you get your big shot. It’s a real movie, backed by a real studio, that will be in real theaters. You tear into that part, you give it everything you have, and after that, you’re indelibly associated with Bobo the Squirrel Fucker. And for the rest of your career, you only get roles for mentally challenged zoophiles. Typecasting is a bitch, and when too many people try to break out of it at the same time, you get Alex Cross.
Tagline: Don’t Ever Cross Alex Cross
More Accurate Tagline: Alex Cross is here to promote family values and kick ass. And he’s all out of family.
Guilty Party: While every fiber of my being is crying out to blame Tyler Perry for this hot mess, it’s not his fault. He might have helped it get made, as there’s a certain fascination with seeing him play something other than Madea (especially a role originated by God Himself, Morgan Freeman), but he was merely a bland leading man. The fault lies with previous Yakmala entrant Rob Cohen, who took Alex Cross, a character who already felt like a knockoff of Freeman’s William Somerset (despite debuting in book form two years before Se7en), and somehow making him feel even more generic than ever before.
Synopsis: Tyler Perry’s Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) is the head of an elite team of Detroit police that includes his childhood best friend Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), The Chick (Rachel Nichols), and somehow not Robocop (Robocop). Alex Cross has superhuman detective skills, which is what everyone talks about when Alex Cross isn’t around. (The movie, sadly, does not feature a coda in which Alex Cross is returned to his home planet with Poochie.) Cross is more concerned with his family: two kids, a pregnant wife, and a grandma so sassy it’s a wonder Perry didn’t insist on playing her himself.
Meanwhile, a skeletal assassin played by Matthew Fox goes after members of a corporation in the most inefficient, bizarre way possible. To get the attention of Fan Yau Lee, the first of them, he fights in an unsanctioned MMA fight (under the name “The Butcher of Sligo” because at this point why not), takes his target home, ties her up for some kinky sex, injects her with a super-roofie, then tortures her to death and kills her bodyguards. It makes even less sense when we learn that her safe was operated by thumbprint, and yet still contains a spare hard drive for the police to find that Matthew Fox somehow missed. Oh yeah, and then he does a charcoal drawing which Cross figures out is a Mad magazine fold-in and has the clues to the next victim.
This turns out to be asshole German Erich Nunemacher. Fox targets him in the man’s own office, sneaking in through some rather large water pipes. Cross and the team is there to stop him, and this earns Fox’s ire, despite, you know, leaving a fucking clue for them to find. I don’t know what this asshole wants. He’s all over the place.
Cross and company meet with the head of the company, Giles Mercier (Jean Reno), and there’s a throwaway moment when Cross deduces the assistant is on a lot of cocaine, and not, you know, a giggly idiot. They also establish that Mercier always wears this hideous pinkie ring that was a gift from the King of Cambodia. Seriously, Paulie Walnuts would call this thing gauche. If Paulie had word-of-the-day toiler paper and knew what that word meant.
An enraged Fox straight up murders the Chick. He does it offscreen, so I wasn’t even sure if she was dead or just messed up for a good fifteen minutes. Then he calls Cross (who’s out on a date with his wife, trying to convince her to let him take a job at the FBI), and they have a Hannibal/Clarice conversation. Finally, Fox gets fed up and blows Cross’s pregnant wife away. For those keeping track at home, of four female speaking roles we’ve seen, two exist as love interests to be brutally murdered (oh yeah, the Chick was banging Ed Burns in a subplot no one cares about), one sets the plot in motion by being tortured and killed (but only after she takes a man to bed for a one-night stand, so it’s cool), and one is a cokehead who is her boss’s Achilles heel. There’s also Cross’s sassy grandma, his daughter, and a cop who’s in like two scenes. Cohen really loves women is what I’m trying to say here.
Cross vows revenge on Fox, despite sassy grandma warning him not to. There’s some investigation that doesn’t really go anywhere, until Cross figures out that Mercier is going to be in public. Fox, done with fucking around, RPGs the site. Cross and Kane pursue, and after a short car chase, Cross pursues Fox through an abandoned theater because Detroit (Kane was wounded when they plowed into Fox’s car, and stays behind so he can show up for a convenient rescue). Cross kills Fox, and Kane rescues Cross.
Cross, having put together that Mercier was behind everything (the man was not wearing his ugly-ass pinkie ring when the RPG hit), frames the Frenchman for drug smuggling in Cambodia. Yep, the assistant was just there to be the weakness in a man. His revenge complete, Cross leaves Detroit for the FBI.
Life-Changing Subtext: Girls and old ladies are good to have around, but sexually mature women only exist to bring men down.
Defining Quote: Kane: “You aren’t in the game. The game is in you.” Apparently Kane was being played by Kirk Lazarus.
Standout Performance: Matthew Fox as the killer (nicknamed Picasso) really taps into that wifebeating dark side of his to play a truly unhinged villain. I mean, the character makes zero sense, as though the writers couldn’t decide if they wanted a cold professional hitman or a raving serial killer, but the commitment Fox had to the part, down to his terrifying physical transformation, is impressive.
What’s Wrong: Alex Cross feels like someone saw Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls, Dirty Harry and all its clones, and made a movie Mad-Lib out of it. It’s so generic that if the poster was just a white page with MOVIE in blue letters, it would be entirely accurate.
Flash of Competence: The performances are largely good. Even Tyler Perry.
Best Scenes: The strangest part of Matthew Fox’s approach on party girl Fan Yau Lee is that he insists on fighting in the cage. It has nothing to do with anything, only showing the movie’s stunning lack of awareness about what the hell MMA is. There are several points where it appears the referee stops the fight, but nope, it goes right on afterwards. And after the tapout, Fox kneels down, and very deliberately breaks the other fighter’s arm. Where the hell was the ref? That’s generally why the accepted method of stopping a cage fight is the flying tackle.
There’s a subplot that plays out over two scenes that makes no sense. The first scene is in the very beginning when he talks to a girl who is taking a murder rap for her career criminal of an uncle. Late in the movie, Cross goes to the uncle (played by Giancarlo Esposito, who, as always, is wonderful) and offers to trade the murder weapon for a link to the chemist who makes Fox’s date rape drugs. This scene, which brings the movie to a halt as I’m desperately trying to figure out what the fuck Gus Fring is doing in this piece of shit, only links them to the chemist, who gives them a partial plate, which somehow gives them Fox’s car. But then Cross figures out Fox is using the RPG, and it doesn’t matter.
Transcendent Moment: After Fox has murdered both Mrs. Cross and the Chick, Cross and he have an angry phone call. It’s supposed to play out like the verbal sparring of two equally matched enemies, but it’s just Cross hissing threats at Fox the whole time. And Fox seems confused by the whole situation. Like, “Dude, I thought you were gonna thank me! You’re free now, you can party!”
No one would ever call Kiss the Girls or Along Came a Spider great or even particularly good movies. They were serviceable thrillers coasting on Freeman’s gravitas and memories of Se7en. Alex Cross has none of that, and has to fail on its own lack of merits.