Thursday, December 20, 2012

Alex Cross

Directed by Rob Cohen.
2012. Rated PG-13, 101 minutes.

Edward Burns
Matthew Fox
John C. McGinley
Werner Daehn
Bonnie Bentley
Giancarlo Esposito

Alex Cross is the lead character in a series of novels written by James Patterson. He was previously brought to the big screen in 1999's Kiss the Girls and 2001’s Along Came a Spider with Morgan Freeman playing the role. Here, the honors belong to Tyler Perry. Our reintroduction to the detective/psychologist starts with him finding out that his wife (Ejogo) is pregnant with their third child. Actually, it starts with a perp chase that’s totally irrelevant to the plot except for being an easy way to introduce us to Alex’s team, but that’s neither here nor there. By the way, the team consists of Alex, his partner and best friend since forever Thomas (Burns) and fairly new to the crew Monica (Nichols). After getting the news about his family’s expansion Alex and company gets called in on a case where a very wealthy young lady and all her bodyguards were found murdered at her home. Getting his Sherlock on, our hero intuits that it was only guy responsible, he tortured the rich chick just for fun, was drawing a picture of her as she was dying, despite not actually being able to see any real evidence of this, and that she was not the main target. The drawing leads his team to dub the bad guy Picasso (they do eventually find a drawing). Trying to catch the artist ensues while he kills more women.

By now, you should see my main problem with this movie. No, it’s not the star. More on him, later. I get that Alex is a genius with immense powers of deductive reasoning. However, to figure out a lot of things in this movie he’s more psychic than psychologist. Take the drawing, for example. Granted, I’m certainly not a crime scene investigator. However, from the information before him I’m not seeing how Alex just decides this guy was drawing a picture of his victim. A few moments later, voila! Thomas finds a picture. A short while later, he’s folding the drawing in precisely the right manner to uncover a clue left by Picasso.

This gift for precise premonition isn’t limited to our hero, either. The bad guy seems able to quickly know things he really shouldn’t. In particular, he magically knows where Alex is going to be in one scene and where another cop lives in the next. It feels lazy, as if the writers just relied on the fact that similar things happen in movies all the time so we probably won’t question it.

Things eventually cycle back in Alex’s favor. This is where we get our most egregious misuse of our hero’s ability. The movie’s entire runtime is spent on the cat and mouse between Alex and Picasso, which is fine, but never clearly establishes reason and motive for the events. Instead, after what we think is the finale, Alex just suddenly knows a lot more information and we have a bit more movie to watch.

In the lead role, Tyler Perry was just fine. He won’t make anyone forget anything Morgan Freeman ever did, but he performs admirably. In roles that require him to show his own face he’s usually bland, hardly engaging. Here, those qualities work for him because it gives the analytical Cross the proper distance from most of the atrocities being committed. It is my understanding that Idris Elba was originally signed to play this role. I think Elba is the better actor, but plays even his non-action roles with too much brawn for this character. Perry’s a better fit and did a good job.

The rest of the cast also does well. Matthew Fox as our bad guy is particularly good. He gives us a solid psychopath. Filling out the rest of the roster are a bunch of folks capable of great work, but given very little to do: Jean Reno, Rachel Nichols, Giancarlo Esposito, Carmen Ejogo, and possibly John C. McGinley. Director Rob Cohen has assembled a nice group but made little use of them with a paint-by-numbers screenplay filled with easy answers.

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