Movie Review: Alex Cross
Rating: PG-13 (violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references, and nudity)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2012
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery
Stars: 3 out of 5
The last time moviegoers saw the character of Alex Cross grace the screen, it was in the 2001 thriller "Along Came a Spider." Before that, it was in the 1996 film "Kiss the Girls." In both instances, the part was played by Morgan Freeman, automatically putting extra pressure on the next actor to play the part. Freeman's version of Cross was a dignified, almost unflappable man who audiences took a real shining to. When it was announced that comedy auteur Tyler Perry would take over the role for "Alex Cross," fans didn't know how to react. All eyes would be on Perry to see if he could do the character justice.
The film acts as a prequel of sorts to the Freeman movies and is set in Detroit, where the city is falling victim to urban and financial decay. The smell of desperation and hardship is in the air, giving a dour background to the film. Cross is a detective and criminal profiler who is thinking of jumping ship to the FBI, where the hours and pay are much better. With a wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), two kids, and another on the way, he has to think of his family's future. His partner, Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), is having an affair with another cop, Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), which just complicates an already thankless job.
The pair are assigned to look into the murders of several associates of French businessman Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), who claims innocence. Little do they know that the murders were committed by Picasso (Matthew Fox), a ruthless killer who gleefully taunts the detectives with clues he leaves behind at every murder scene. Cross is invested in the case but becomes obsessed and goes outside his legal boundaries when Picasso raises the stakes by making it personal. Will Cross become unhinged by the killer before he can take his cushy desk job at the FBI?
Nobody knew what to expect when casting for the film was revealed, because the actors cast as the main characters were going so against type. It was tantamount to when Jim Carrey, best known for his rubbery faces in movies like "The Mask" announced he was going dark for "The Cable Guy." Could Tyler Perry, the man inside the fat suit in the Madea franchise, play an intense cop in a different kind of suit? Likewise, could Matthew Fox, best known as the good guy leader of the castaways on "Lost," play the bad guy?
The answer to both these questions is "yes." Perry takes a role made famous by one of the best actors of his generation and puts his own mark on it. It couldn't have been easy to play the straight man after so many years of comedy work, but Perry does it well, showing an aptitude for playing an investigator. This ability could serve him very well in the future, should "Alex Cross" turn into a franchise like many expect it to.
Likewise, Fox is fairly remarkable as Picasso, a villain nobody would want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere else, for that matter. Fox obviously spent months in the gym bulking up for the role, which gives him plenty of opportunity to show off his chiseled abs and biceps. Even fully clothed, Picasso is all bulging neck, head veins, and intense gazes. Fox plays him as a killer with a flair for the dramatic, with plenty of crazy-eyed stares to match. It is almost chilling to watch his character as he is emboldened with each murder that Cross and his team can't seem to solve. Even if Fox never plays another bad guy, Picasso could be the villain of his career.
The screenplay by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson is loosely based on "Cross," one of James Patterson's many novels in his bestselling series. It serves as an origin story that shows how Cross became the man that audiences saw in Freeman's films. It is a fresh take on the character, but Perry imbues the part with enough gravitas that it is impossible not to see the link to Freeman's take. This continuity is essential if Perry and company are to make additional films in the series.
Director Rob Cohen does a good job of mixing action scenes into the police procedural aspect. He is very aware that this film is about a beloved character at a crossroads in his life who is facing a lot of constant pressure. He pulls a graceful performance out of Perry, who has never been in a film he hasn't directed himself. He obviously doesn't have a problem taking the direction of others, which bodes well for the future of the series after this film.