An admission straight away: Rob Cohen’s would-be franchise igniter Alex Cross is literally the first Tyler Perry film that I have ever seen. A second, probably redundant admission: I am a white male.
This absence of perspective may distort my opinion of Alex Cross, especially since the film is clearly designed as a change-of-page image makeover movie. From what I have gathered via cultural osmosis, Tyler Perry’s film work falls into two general categories – broad comedies headlined by his Madea character that appeal largely to African-Americans, and more soap operatic, female-centric moral tales that, like a surprising amount of explicitly misogynist media, paradoxically appeal largely to women.
Alex Cross is intended to reinvent Perry as a more mainstream male lead and quasi-action hero. He is playing a loose version of writer James Patterson’s D.C. detective, although here the action is set in Detroit in order to capitalize on Michigan’s film tax breaks. This is reflected not just in the awkward location shooting (a surreptitious meeting is held in an auto museum), but in the omnipresent GM product placement that is written into the story, including the invaluable help that OnStar plays in locating the killer.
Even for a film that was created solely for the purposes of image makeovers and tax breaks, though, Alex Cross is terrible. It opens with a totally context-free chase scene, in which Perry’s Cross pursues and overwhelms an unnamed, unidentified criminal for unexplained reasons. The only point of the scene is to prove that Alex Cross is THE MOST TOTALLY AMAZING PERSON ALIVE, and it’s a point that gets reiterated in every scene to come. My favorite part of the sequence is the end, in which Cross attends to the unnamed, unidentified victim of the unexplained crime, who smiles and waves goodbye as she is wheeled off on a gurney.
As envisioned by Perry the screenwriter, Detective Dr. Alex Cross is a near-superhero, a totally butch and badass master detective/piano teacher/psychologist/supercop/action hero/family man that every other character envies and admires. But Cross’ powers of detection are not articulated to us – when Cross arrives at a crime scene and immediately deduces that it was the work of one killer, we never understand his process – and yet that does not stop everyone in the film from fawning over him. Whenever Cross is off screen, the other characters basically stand around and ask, “Where’s Poochie?”
Ed Burns plays Thomas Kane, Cross’ best friend since childhood and partner on the police force, which seems like something that probably shouldn’t even be allowed. Their relationship is one of many thinly developed character threads throughout Alex Cross – Perry may have been counting on this film to launch a franchise, but it already has the formulaic familiarity of the fourth or fifth entry in a tired series.
Cross and Kane are assigned to the case of a serial killer (Matthew Fox, insanely muscular and sinewy, and memorably awful in an over-the-top manner not unlike Jon Voight in Anaconda) who appears to be targeting executives of a mysteeeeerrrrrious hydrogen fuel cell corporation (although it’s a sure bet that “not General Motors = evil” in this universe). This is one of those films where the killer continuously taunts and leaves clues for the detective chasing him for no discernible reason, except that otherwise he would get away with it. Of course, the entire plan is revealed at the end by a stereotypical monologue-ing villain, which helps to clarify nothing whatsoever.
Perry is in way over his head here as both an actor and a writer, and he finally resorts to wearing glasses in order to look smart. His Cross is supposed to be a sort of African-American Sherlock Holmes, but he should have copy edited the idiotic script, which has Cross meeting with a maximum security prisoner at night (yet another dangling story thread with no setup or payoff), babbling lines like, “I’d rather take advice from a ham sandwich,” and surviving an explosion by ducking under a table.
I also doubt that any intelligent person would have allowed an exchange like this to remain in the script:
Obvious Villain: “Do you like nature, Dr. Cross?”
Alex Cross (smiles): “Human nature.”
That doesn’t even make fucking sense. However, gibberish is par for the course here – after Fox’s psychopathic killer takes out a couple of victims, Cross and his wife decide to take a “date night”, where they actually proceed to discuss dental plans. Obviously, when you’re a high-profile lead detective hunting an at-large serial killer with a penchant for profiling his victims and exacting sadistic vengeance in public settings, you want to take your wife out to one of Detroit’s many famed outdoor cafés in order to debate the relative merits of Aetna versus MetLife.
Surprising no one except for the smartest and most perceptive man in the known universe, Fox follows Cross to the restaurant, and murders his wife with a sniper rifle. This begins the most excruciating passage of the film, a massively indulgent grieving process sequence that gives Perry:
1) The “holding-his-wife-in-his-arms-while-he-wails-over-her-corpse” scene
2) The “crying-over-her-casket” scene
3) The “grieving-in-the-front-row-at-the-gravesite-with-the-choir-wailing-in-the-background” scene
4) The “holding-in-his-emotions-at-the-meal-after-the-funeral” scene
5) The “exhorting-his-crying-child-to-always-remember-her-mother” scene
On the updated Cinematic Narcissism Scale, this sequence falls somewhere between Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill and Kevin Costner in Draft Day. The last portion with Cross’ crying daughter is particularly nauseating, and just serves as another reminder that child acting is essentially child abuse. When Cross is done sensitively scarring his daughter for life, he immediately heads to the garage to saw off the barrel of his shotgun, always the first step on the road to vigilante justice. Cross is a straight-arrow detective with scrupulous morals, but a little girl cried, so the Constitution can go fuck itself.
After a bit of phony and hand-wringing and a little lip service to the moral implications of revenge, Cross starts gathering phony evidence, making death threats, and torturing suspects in order to work his way towards Fox. The pursuit culminates in the rafters of the crumbling Michigan Theater, a magnificent old location that helps make the final fight between Fox and Cross one of the better scenes in the film.
Alex Cross was released on an October 2012 weekend when Paranormal Activity 4 was its only new release competition, but it opened at just $11 million (right behind the 4th week take of Hotel Transylvania) and failed to make back its budget in theaters. There was some initial talk of a sequel, and there is certainly more than enough James Patterson source material to draw from, but any hopes that this would be Perry’s crossover vehicle have long since been sawed off.
For a full of list of every Dare Daniel movie dating back to 2005, check out my my Letterboxd page.
Thanks again to Jeff for the Dare! Of course, with the publication of Dare Daniel XIX, that means there are only 4 weeks left until Dare Daniel XX. If you have a film you want to Dare, hit me up on the Facebooks and the Twitters, and be sure to follow Jeff’s example by getting out the vote.