Alex Cross is just an awful movie. Very little of it makes sense. The bits that do make sense don't matter. It's difficult to look at and impossible to take seriously. If you go to this movie expecting even proficient blandness, you will walk away disappointed.
But... it stars Tyler Perry. So now everything is much more complicated. Now Alex Cross' deficiencies as a real film get put aside because it was never going to be a real film in the first place. It's a stunt film. An experiment.
The best way to take Alex Cross is to imagine you're watching one of those Tropic Thunder trailers filled to feature length. Actually, the better comparison would be that bit in Last Action Hero where Arnold plays Hamlet. You know Arnold. And you know Hamlet. But put them both together, and something feels very rotten in Denmark.
I know Tyler Perry. And I know dumb action films. Seeing Tyler Perry in a trench coat with a shotgun is very foreign to me, but that's part of Alex Cross' unique joy. Tyler Perry punching guys. Tyler Perry slamming some fella's toes with a golf club. Tyler Perry cradling a dead lady in his arms. Tyler Perry having forced blue-collar banter with Edward Burns. This was all very thrilling from my particular point of view because it's exactly the kind of stuff I never thought I'd see him do.
What I did not expect, what I didn't even bother hoping for, was to what extent Tyler Perry's involvement would infect the rest of the film. This movie may not have his typical foundation of deep, hidden weird stuff going on. It will take more viewings to know for sure, but right now Alex Cross strikes me as little more than a weak revenge action film. But it is Tyler Perry's weak revenge action fim, not Rob Cohen's.
You can see Tyler Perry all over this film. The idea that this could have been Idris Elba is unfathomable to me. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense because Alex Cross comes from James Patterson, and James Patterson is in his own way just as bad a writer as Tyler Perry. When people call Cross "Detective Doctor Cross," it's exactly the kind of bullshit over-exaggeration Tyler Perry shoots himself in the foot with all the time.
This character is a super-cop, a physical badass, a psychologist, a Sherlock Holmes-level master of deduction (the Sherlock bits are just stupid beyond belief), a superb family man and AND! a lawman willing and able to internationally plant drugs on a bad guy that will lead to his execution when found. Classic Tyler Perry.
After the film's opening action scene, a woman being carried out of the crime scene on a stretcher stops Cross just long enough to thank him, even though she should have no idea who he is. He, of course, accepts her thanks with great modesty. Classic Tyler Perry.
When mad, Tyler Perry saws the end off his shotgun. After finally shooting this gun later in the film, he regards it with sudden disgust and throws it down, preferring his regular gun instead. This is never explained. Classic Tyler Perry.
The last five minutes of this film are chronologically impossible unless the sequence of events takes place during three different simultaneous alternative universes. Classic Tyler Perry.
Cicely Tyson, the female Christopher Walken, appears in the film as a tough, no-nonsense "Mother Dear." Classic Tyler Perry.
Alex Cross approaches a character played by Giancarlo Esposito and says "I'm looking for a chemist" with no hint of cultural awareness at all. Classic Tyler Perry.
The film uses John C. McGinley in a pre-Scrubs capacity. Classic Tyler Perry.
Alex Cross tells someone, "Don't over think it." Very classic Tyler Perry.
Little by little, the differences between this and a regular old Tyler Perry movie become increasingly cosmetic, largely because there really is no such thing as a "regular old" Tyler Perry film. Alex Cross would seem like a far bigger jump had he not just made Good Deeds, a film which significantly improved Perry's visual palette while offering him his first lead role, a performance requiring both a big crying moment and even some hot Tyler Perry simulated sex action.
It's not so hard to imagine Tyler Perry had directed this one, too. Actually, had Tyler Perry directed it, it might even be a bit better. I doubt the big fight scene at the end would have been so ridiculously shaky. Its PG-13 rating already displays a Tyler Perry-level fear of gore. Rob Cohen's direction makes the film look like a PBS version of Michael Bay. Well, I figure Tyler Perry can make a PBS version of anything.
The only bit of Alex Cross that escapes Tyler Perry's orbit is Matthew Fox's highly entertaining turn as Crazy Bad Guy. Some reviews are calling him Picasso, but no one in the film ever calls him that. (He does draw Picasso rip-offs in chalk that also double as clue-giving Mad Magazine Fold-Ins. Classic Tyler Perry.)
Fox doesn't walk away with the film or anything, and his raw entertainment value is limited, but he does supply the film with a bit of a wild card to help offset Tyler Perry's stunt casting. There's one scene in particular where Fox talks to Perry on the telephone and halfway through he just quits that and starts talking directly into the camera instead. If his whole performance had the unhinged energy of that one moment, this would probably end up the camp classic the Universe so badly wants it to be.
And that's the funny thing. I can't really recommend Alex Cross as anything more than a novelty, whereas other Tyler Perry films have genuine importance (usually). I find most Tyler Perry movies infinitely rewatchable, but I doubt I'll have much use for this one. Because Perry didn't write the script, it lacks that mess of intention and confused signifiers that usually plague his work and give me material enough to write a whole stupid book. The comeuppance suffered by the film's main antagonist (not Matthew Fox - his death is boring) crosses some interesting moral lines, but it's nothing compared to the end of Why Did I Get Married Too?
In the end, Alex Cross is little more than just shockingly bad. You have to wonder what action fans who have no idea who Tyler Perry is will think of this movie. Alex Cross functions as a narrative, but its execution fails to a bizarre degree. I suppose Perry's usual fans will come out and disregard the film's lack of quality, but will anyone else? I love the guy, but he just doesn't feel like an action hero. In fact, the madder he gets, the more he resembles Madea. As an actor, Tyler Perry has this really strange problem where he lacks chemistry with everyone but himself. He has all kinds of relationships here, but none of them really work.
Still, it's a good day when I can go see a movie in which Tyler Perry angrily calls someone a maggot, not once but twice. I wish it were much weirder, but it's probably weird enough for many of you out there. I can't imagine this will turn into a franchise for Perry, but you never know. It was made for almost nothing, so profitability isn't out of the question. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Monday morning I'll wake up to a world where Tyler Perry has finally crossed over and claimed that crown he's been lusting after for years. Maybe a year from now, I'll be looking forward to Tyler Perry/Tom Cruise team ups and an expanded TP role in Star Trek into Darkness or whatever it's called. I would gladly live in such a reality.