Opens Friday at International Village
Tyler Perry takes up the mantle left by Morgan Freeman, hoping to kick-start the Alex Cross franchise.
It's been more than a decade since we last saw the character (in 2001's Along Came A Spider) and physically, Perry is perfect to play the 200-pound, 6'3" police detective and psychological profiler.
With a dozen or so of James Patterson's Alex Cross novels as source material, like Bond, the Alex Cross character has the potential to live for decades, past actors' youth and studio closures. And this being a prequel, it should have been the most substantive of the bunch, setting a solid foundation for future films.
Instead, the film plays like an amateurish stab at TV cop drama. Despite decent performances by the leads, story and motivation are all but absent, glimpsed only in a hasty post-script.
Detective Dr. Alex Cross (Perry) is chasing down a bad guy with his partner Tommy (Edward Burns). They save a girl from a serial killer, we think, before chatting about the good old days and how they've known each other since Kindergarten. Then they get a call from the bumbling police chief (John C. McGinley) about a new murder: "We've got four roses with a torture chaser." Pardon? Perhaps because no one can understand his movie-cop lingo, we don't see much of the chief for the rest of the film.
We meet our killer in a cathedral that has been turned into an MMA arena, where a gaunt-yet-chiselled Matthew Fox agrees to a clean fight before delivering a brutal beating on a much bigger dude. Fox's character is really disturbed. We know that because he opens his eyes really wide, has lots of tattoos, and does chin-ups naked in his houseboat (and other than Tom Hanks, all houseboat-dwellers in movies are weirdos). He also does high-speed charcoal drawings, so the cops call him Picasso.
As in all good murders, there is big money involved. Go-to French guy Jean Reno breezes in as Giles Mercier, a billionaire with a cute Cambodian assistant and wearing a massive papal-style ring given to him from the "king of Cambodia." Hmm, I see Sugar Palm trees in our film future_
Mercier and Cross have a sit-down in his mansion, where not much transpires. "Do you like nature, Dr. Cross?" asks Mercier, which leads to a sit-down in the garden, where not much transpires.
Throwaway characters enter the fray, including a comical German germophobe and Rachel Nichols of TV's Criminal Minds, feeling right at home. Family tragedies strike. Now Cross and Tommy are really, really determined to find the killer. We wait the whole film for the battle between Alex and Picasso, but when it comes, the key blow is muddied by slo-mo camerawork, a la every cop show from the '80s.
Story meanders between big ads for Cadillac and OnStar. The Cadillac logo is featured every time a vehicle pulls up, in window reflections, on navigation systems-even in the soundtrack, as the band Rival Sons squawks about driving their Cadillac right into the sun. Not the only product placement in the film (hire Two Men and a Truck!) but it's possibly the most shameless example since FedEx boxes kept washing ashore in Cast Away.
The biggest mystery of the film-why the killer is so wide-eyed and twitchy-is never resolved. (Maybe it's the horse-and-buggy-on-a-road-full-of-ruts camerawork that's giving him a migraine?) This led me to hum Talking Heads' "Psycho killer, qu'est-ce c'est?" all the way home, since the ending comes so quickly that we never find out why Picasso tortured his victims, how he became such a psychopath, or where he learned the tricks of the trade. Alex surmises that he's military, not necessarily U.S., and that he's gone rogue, one of many theories that hang in the ether and are never resolved.
The second-biggest mystery-the motivation for the whole thing-is not satisfactorily answered in a brief scene that plays like a Scooby Doo episode: "And I would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling cops." The entire film is wrapped up in flashbacks and a comical phone-call confession that dumps motivation on the sidewalk before we see the narrative tail-lights tearing down the street.
"Is this how you want to die?" is the film's first line. It's also a prediction for the franchise.