Chances are Alex Cross was not high on your list of potential movies to see this weekend, unless you were a fan of the novels. I haven’t read the novels, but if they were anything like this movie I’m glad I didn’t waste any time with them. From opening credits to closing, Alex Cross is a scripted billboard of advertisements crafted into a terrible screenplay based on what seems like an intriguing story.
In a nutshell, Alex Cross is the story of the Detroit detective, Dr. Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), pursuing the contract killer, Picasso (Matthew Fox), and trying to stop him from murdering the uber rich philanthropist, Leon Mercier (Jean Reno). Using his heightened skills of observation, Alex tracks the killer only to be brought in deeper than he expected when his personal life blends with his professional.
From a straight story perspective, the ideas of Alex Cross are intriguing. I’m assuming the novels are very good, because the characters plot choices are interesting on paper. The issue with the film is the screenplay and production itself.
Ideally, when Hollywood makes a movie, they slyly slip in some product placement and effortlessly blend it into the story. In Alex Cross they were smashing it into the audience’s faces repeatedly and daring us to tell on them. There were long rolling shots of Cadillacs and overextended close-ups of the logos. At one point Alex Cross has a thirty-second soliloquy on the awesomeness of OnStar. Re/Max signs were on every front lawn (Who knows why? Is EVERYONE in Detroit selling their house and using the SAME real estate agent!???).
In addition to the product placement flaws that can usually be overlooked if the movie is enjoyable, Alex Cross fails to adhere to its own established premises. The villain Picasso is portrayed as a ruthless killing machine that can physically overwhelm a trained Mixed Martial Artist Fighter. Yet, in the final scene, chubby braniac Alex Cross is able to hold his own with him in a physical fight that should have left him decimated based on previous establishments of character traits.
Most surprising for me was Matthew Fox’s performance as Picasso. I half expected Tyler Perry to struggle with a dramatic role, but it was Fox’s portrayal of Picasso that threw me for a loop. It was non-uniform. At times he was focused and ruthless, with an icy stare and twitchy, haunting mannerisms. Then he would speak, and the high pitched over emphasized Hannibal Lecter impersonation squeaked out and ruined the moment. This may be chalked up to acting choices, but editing and directing play a huge part here and it was disappointing to see a usually consistent performer so “all over the map.”
Perhaps all of the blame shouldn’t fall on Fox, as screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson failed to offer a balanced villain that invited any empathy. The screenplay was a Bush League, student film-esque dumpster fire with little plot substance apart from the “shock value” conflict. But that did little to tug at our heart strings because we cared so little for the characters. There were moments where I could literally sense a location change in a scene for the sake of a location change. It was as if Marc turned to Kerry and said “Hey, they’ve been rambling aimlessly for several minutes… why don’t they ramble on in a 1920’s Gangster Car now?”
It is my Screenwriting-critic duty to find the gems of content worthy of praise in each film I watch, so here goes. In Alex Cross there are few, but they are of note. Firstly, Matthew Fox does make some risky choices as an actor that do make for the most solid performance in the film. The writing of the character is over the top, but the performance is not bad. I felt if Fox had better dialogue to work with and better direction, this could have been a noteworthy performance. Additionally, the story itself is interesting. Perhaps this is why the novels are popular enough to warrant a film. As a screenplay it was executed poorly, but if a viewer can look past the bad dialogue, poorly directed scenes, less than stellar acting, lack of chemistry between anyone, and blatant product placement… I forgot my point.
Alex Cross is not a theatergoing experience I can recommend, it may not even be worth the rental. Read the books if you’re curious about the story, or read a spoiler page on the Internet. With so many good films in theatres, both Hollywood produced and Independent, you can “Alex Cross” this one off your list.