Alex Cross

Or, Madea's Generic Thriller

Alex Cross

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Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Jean Reno, Rachel Nichols, Chad Lindberg, Simon Rhee, Giancarlo Esposito, Carmen Ejogo, Edward Burns, John C. McGinley, Ron Causey, Tim Holmes, Robert Graziosi, Janine Sarnowski, Werner Daehn, Cicely Tyson. Written by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, from the novel Cross by James Patterson.

The originality is apparent from the tagline: “Don’t ever Cross… Alex Cross.” I’m surprised they didn’t keep it going. “He’ll dot the i’s and Cross the t’s… Don’t make him Cross the line… From the Cross-dressing star of the Madea films…”

You’d be excused for not knowing who Tyler Perry is; while the Madea series – in which he plays a stereotypically domineering African-American matriarch – has launched him into stardom in the US, with each entry earning multiple times its budget at the box office, he’s failed to find much of an audience internationally. Alex Cross is his first film to open theatrically in the Czech Republic.

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And yet, starring as the titular character – previously played by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, from the series of detective thriller novels by James Patterson – Perry makes about zero impact here, languishing in an attempt to break out into a more ‘normal’ role.  

That’s largely because Cross seems like a co-lead in his own film; the villain character here, a serial killer named Picasso, played by Matthew Fox, seems to get just as much screen time – and completely dominates the film over our bland and generic hero. Fox, best known for his TV roles on Party of Five and Lost, is the real breakout star here, and the only memorable aspect of the film. 

Picasso is a sleek, suave mystery man who enters himself into a MMA fight and promptly breaks the arms of a much larger opponent. Fox is in amazing shape here – slim yet incredibly muscular, there isn’t an ounce of fat on his body. Later, Picasso brutally tortures and kills a businesswoman, and Alex Cross and co. from the Detroit Police Department (including partner Tommy Kane, played by Edward Burns) are on the case.

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While Picasso tortures and kills his victims – and the film frequently tells us just how brutally he does so – because this is a PG-13 outing, we rarely see any bloodshed – or the full extent of his depravity. That’s part of the reason I found myself rooting for Picasso by the end over the generic detective on his trail. 

I didn’t care for the earlier films with Morgan Freeman (especially the rancid Along Came a Spider) so hopes weren’t high for this one. Still, the utter lack of finesse in which it’s put together is stunning. We lurch from scene to scene without any sense of cohesion. Events seem to randomly occur instead of being properly set up. Characterizations are all over the map, as plot necessity dictates who is capable of doing what.

Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) has typically been a reliable action director, but he completely lost control of this picture. Chase and fight scenes are shot and edited with such total incoherence that we rarely have any idea of what’s going on. A climactic hand-to-hand scene involving Cross is the worst offender, over-edited in what seems like an attempt to hide the actor’s limited fighting ability. 

Perry’s Madea films have been largely criticized – by Spike Lee, among others – for their stereotypical and potentially detrimental view of African-American life (that’s not the only criticism to fall upon the films – reviewers have generally blasted the series due to a myriad of other reasons relating to filmmaking competence). 

In Alex Cross, you wouldn’t expect any such characterizations. You’d be wrong. Right there in ‘Nana Mama’, Cross’ grandmother, is Madea reincarnated, played by Cicely Tyson no less, which I guess is supposed to make it more palatable. In a similar bit of cultural stereotyping, Jean Reno – perhaps the most recognizable actor in the cast – seems to have been asked to ham up his French accent a la his Pink Panther character. I kept wondering how these actors were feeling while performing their scenes. 

The conventionality of Alex Cross will take it so far with certain audiences, the sheer awfulness will take far with others, and the Fox performance is worth a look-see regardless. This is certainly a watchable film, if for many of the wrong reasons. Otherwise, it’s a real turkey – and one of the worst films of the year. For your thriller fix, check out Jack Reacher instead.

Also opening this week:

  • Carmen (showtimes), a 3D version of the opera from director F.A.Brabec (V peřině) starring Lucie Bílá and Jiří Korn. Screening in Czech.
  • The Hunt (showtimes | IMDb), a Danish drama from director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) starring Mads Mikkelsen. Screening in Danish with Czech subtitles.
  • Showflake, the White Gorilla (showtimes | IMDb), an animated Spanish film. Screening in a Czech-dubbed version.

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