Novelist James Patterson has reached a level of fame which no longer requires him to write his own books, and his most famous character, Alex Cross, has achieved a level of renown which no longer requires him to appear in his own films. A character named Alex Cross does figure in the creatively named Alex Cross, but other than the fact that he’s black, he bears little resemblance to the urbane sleuth portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Freeman’s Cross used outrageous tools like deductive reasoning to solve crimes, but Cross as portrayed by (yes, that) Tyler Perry is far too brilliant for such vulgar investigative techniques. He just knows who did what and with which and to whom, an approach which frees up considerable time for him to kick, punch, and shoot his way through the already shambolic streets of Detroit. Though it depicts a detective pursuing a killer, Alex Cross is not a mystery. It’s a brainless action flick whose only mysterious aspect is how a major studio could have greenlit it.
Does this misbegotten clunker admit of any degree of praise? Well, Perry is not miscast as woefully as one might presume. Having known him only by reputation and only seen him in drag on the covers of his Madea DVDs, I maintained exceedingly low expectations regarding the quality of his performance here. Yet his imposing physicality and brooding presence conferred a measure of credibility upon him in this role. Matthew Fox lost a lot of weight to play his vile antagonist; that must have presented a challenge. The soundtrack didn’t feature any dubstep. Beyond that, I’m hard pressed to identify positives.
The problem, as always, lies with the script. As the Matrix sequels demonstrated, you can have a budget rivaling the GDP of Monaco and still end up as a byword for squandered potential if your script sucks. And the script for Alex Cross did nothing if not suck. The producers could have given a monkey a typewriter and ended up with less ludicrous situations and more profound dialogue. I remain perpetually astonished by the failure of so many major releases to feature even a passable level of screenwriting. The issue can’t come down to money: many of the most imbecilic Hollywood offerings – think Transformers 2 – have the highest budgets. Studio executives must treat the screenplay as an afterthought because they recognize that, while atrocious writing won’t win films critical praise, it won’t cost them at the box office either. If true, this assertion damningly indicts not merely the industry but also the moviegoing public. After all, I paid to see Alex Cross, fully aware of how awful I would likely find it. I guess that when I dis Alex, I dis myself.
One final observation: what activity is so abhorrent that, when it contributes to a film’s rating, the MPAA requires it to be specifically indicated in the film’s rating logo as a warning to potential viewers? Smoking. What activity is abhorrent enough to contribute to a film’s rating, but not so abhorrent that the MPAA requires it to be indicated in the logo as a warning? Injecting a woman with a drug which renders her incapable of moving or vocalizing while preserving her full physical sensation, then cutting her fingers off one by one as she writhes in agony. Well, the good folks at the MPAA can rest easy tonight: Alex Cross may contain misogynistic torture, but it’s 100% smoke-free.