Film Review: Alex Cross

Detroit cop battles serial killer in a listless adaptation of a James Patterson novel.

Slinking into theatres is Alex Cross, the latest attempt to cash in on crime author James Patterson. A loose adaptation of his novel Cross, the film not only resurrects a character previously played by Morgan Freeman (in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider), it lets Tyler Perry take a shot at hosting an action franchise.

Can Perry, who built a media empire out of squishy family dramas, play an obsessive cop haunted by tragedy? Not if he relies on vehicles like this one, marked by slapdash plotting, nonsensical action and inept pacing. The action genre on the whole doesn't look like a comfortable fit for Perry, a lumbering screen presence who is better at projecting teary-eyed sincerity than brutal, vengeful anger.

The plot pits Cross, a homicide detective and psychologist, against Picasso (a frighteningly buff Matthew Fox) in a cat-and-mouse game involving torture murders and civic renewal. Turns out a scheme to revive downtown Detroit won't work unless a sadistic serial killer can steal a computer by cutting off a party girl's fingers.

That's the kind of logic at work in Alex Cross, which also includes several scenes of deductive reasoning that would leave Sherlock Holmes dumbfounded. Cross can walk into a crime scene and—based on something or other, a sixth sense? ESP?—figure out exactly what happened. Oddly, he can't get into a police evidence storage facility without mounting a commando raid.

Despite his preternatural skills, bad things happen before Cross closes in on Picasso, like one of the worst staged funerals in recent cinema. Or a parley with local gangster Daramus Holiday (Giancarlo Esposito) that turns into a long product placement ad for Cadillac.
As a concession to Perry's fans, he's given plenty of time to bond emotionally with his wife, daughter and grandmother, dispense relationship advice to his partner Thomas Kane (an underachieving Edward Burns), and generally be a nice guy. Picasso, meanwhile, gets to snarl insults over his Bluetooth headset while knocking off his next victim. Neither approach makes much of an impact.

Given the 16 credited producers and the Patterson pedigree, it's remarkable that a film this sloppy could reach the screen. Alex Cross fails to build any momentum as it lurches toward its climax, and its climactic action scenes are so poorly lit and shot they are essentially unwatchable.

By the end of the film, Cross is ready to join the FBI (he praises the agency's dental plan to Kane), leaving open the possibility of a sequel. Some reports say a deal for Double Cross is being hammered out; Perry's fans may hope he returns to Madea instead.