Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: "Alex Cross"

An aggressively dumb drama/thriller, "Alex Cross" clumsily retraces the steps of other movies about lawmen hunting down depraved serial killers who taunt them along the way. With its simplistic characterizations and clunky dialogue, it makes you think of  "Se7en" or "In the Line of Fire" as remade by a bunch of 15-year-olds ... and not particularly talented 15-year-olds.

Morgan Freeman played the role of Alex Cross, a brilliant African-American psychologist/detective, in a pair of middling 1990s adaptations of the novels by James Patterson.

Tyler Perry has a less intellectual, more visceral take on the character. That's a great idea in theory, but his ham-fisted performance results in a guy who seems all over the map -- hot and cold, a paragon of righteousness one minute, a rule-busting vigilante the next. He doesn't seem so much a person as a conflation of emotional highs and lows.

Perry, known for putting on a dress as the wild-and-crazy grandma Madea in a string of comedies he wrote and directed, just isn't convincing in a grim lead role. The audience in the preview screening I attended tittered several times at moments that were intended to be serious.

They also were amused by his, ah, ample physique struggling through a number of fight scenes. Director Rob Cohen doesn't help, resorting to the usual hackery of quick edits, tight framing and a shaky camera. The final showdown between Cross and the villain should be enshrined in film schools everywhere as how not to shoot an action scene.

Speaking of that villain -- Matthew Fox is the film's one redeeming quality as Picasso, a mysterious killer who's a hired assassin but clearly relishes his gruesome trade more than a cool professional would. Looking like every ounce of fat has been boiled off his lean frame, Fox flashes a death's-head rictus grin that is truly unsettling. He seems like he wants to shiver his way out of his own skin.

The character's backstory is never really explored -- we see a newspaper clipping that says something about a rapist, and Picasso (he's never otherwise named) repeatedly blames Cross for turning him into what he is. But the screenplay by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson doesn't follow through.

Their transcendently awful dialogue is truly something to behold. It's as if every time the characters are faced with a situation somebody asked, "Now what's the most obvious thing he/she would say here?"

For instance, when Picasso applies his sordid trade to Cross' family and he starts gearing up for revenge, his mother (Cicely Tyson) lectures him: "Look at you! Self-appointed judge, jury and executioner!"

Secondary characters are strictly by-the-numbers, like Edward Burns as Cross' laconic partner/best friend, the scrappy supportive wife (Carmen Ejogo) and the smarmy corporate types who sneer at the cops even as the lawmen protect them from being carved up by Picasso.

A bundle of clich├ęs wrapped in heaping helping of awful sauce, "Alex Cross" is a total flop as Tyler Perry's crossover to serious moviemaking. Better dust off that oversized dress.

1.5 stars out of four

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