Review: Rob Cohen Delivers an Ocean of Boredom with 'Alex Cross'
by Jeremy Kirk
October 19, 2012
It's not that James Patterson's original novels were great philosophical masterpieces. Director Rob Cohen and his screenwriting team weren't working with the deepest material when it came time to make Alex Cross, rebooting a franchise that began with Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Tyler Perry is no Morgan Freeman, either, but even with all of this working against this film, it still finds a way of shocking you with how utterly dull and uninteresting it all is. Matthew Fox's crazy eyes can't even bring entertainment to what ends up a lazy and numbing experience, but he is easily the best part. Read on!
Perry steps in as the title character, a homicide detective and criminal profiler who pulls clues out of the air and works them nicely into the case at hand. His latest involves an assassin working his way down a kill list. Cross and his team must track the killer down before he can complete his list, but the tables turn when the detectives find the cross-hairs aimed at them.
Yeah, that pretty much read like the inside flap of a James Patterson novel, and yeah it's pretty thin. The synopsis could have included some little tidbits about Cross wanting to move his family out of Detroit and into Washington DC, where an FBI job is waiting. Or it could have included some information about Cross' relationship with his wife, who has just made him privy to her pregnancy. All of that is development found in the film, but none of it factors in enough to add any real weight. The procedural of hunting down a sadistic hitman and the violence that ensues is the real bread-and-butter in Alex Cross, and its Cohen and his crack team of screenwriters to make that come off as interesting or, God forbid, exciting. They don't.
Nearly every aspect of Alex Cross is standard thriller chum, plot points and characters tossed without care into ever-deepening ocean of boredom. Patterson's novel, "Cross" - Which I haven't read, but I did read through a few Patterson novels at an age where I was only in the shallow end of storytelling - surely didn't have grand gestures of literature-making or deep crevasses of fully developed characters, but that's just an assumption. The screenplay for Alex Cross definitely doesn't, and darker moments come and go without even a tick on the emotion scale. One main character's demise is revealed via a photo and hardly even alluded to after. Evidently their character wasn't memorable enough to even mention in the third act. As it is the most notable character in the film becomes Fox's eyes. That's when the movie serves as a comedy.
And it works just as long as Cohen allows Fox to be as wacky, insane, psychotic, and any other technical terms for crazy that the actor chooses to be. It's the only area in the film where it seems Cohen makes the right choice, and it seems to just be a matter of leash-loosening he does for the actor. The rest of the film is loaded with the same point-and-shoot care that can be found in such classics as Stealth or The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, both former Cohen films and both much more intriguing than this one.
Action sequences pop up here and there, usually for little reason other than it's been about 15 minutes since the last one, and the director never seems to have a handle on how to capture it. An early MMA fight should have been touting the amazing hand-to-hand choreography the rest of the movie would offer, but it doesn't. Instead, Cohen shoots it like he does gunfights or car chases, with little thought in what needs to go up on the screen and even less care with if it works. It all might work a little better if it weren't so predictable, seemingly chopping up bits from other movies and supplanting them here for your entertainment. And if the action scenes here are awful, the depiction of the act of investigation is abysmal. Remember the "pulling clues from the air" line? That's no exaggeration.
It's left to Perry to make the investigation somewhat believable, and he tries so hard to get it right. It may come as a shock, but Tyler Perry is a good actor, and when he's working in his wheelhouse he seems to lose everything in his characters. However, Alex Cross is very much outside his wheelhouse, and what should come off as the pensive look of a genius working on a puzzle ends up looking more like a man trying to remember his lines. When Alex Cross does eventually get "crossed," that pensive look should turn to the determined stare of a man on a mission.
That only stare we're focused on at that point is Fox's abrasive gaze. We're also distracted by his emaciated appearance, like he's trying to give Christian Bale a run for his money in the "how much weight can I lose for a part" game. He ends up pulling off crazy acting on a level only meant for Nicolas Cage, and when Alex Cross is the "Sadistic Hitman Show," it's nearly a riot. "Nearly" is the important work there, and nothing in the rest of this meandering coloring book of famous detective stories comes close to matching the fun the actor seems to be having.
Cohen should have taken a few notes from how Fox handles the antagonist. At least then Alex Cross would have been entertaining as a colossal train wreck, the kind of movie that enjoyable only for the sake of laughing about it with a group of friends. As it stands, though, most of what this film delivers are moment after moment of drab suspense and even less colorful drama. Patterson's novels might have been - and probably still are - dime-thin, but the sheer number he's written and the popularity that's made that number possible give reason to believe they are at the very least entertaining. Someone should have let Rob Cohen and his team in on how to get some of that entertainment into their movie.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10