REVIEW: Tyler Perry Isn't In Drag But He Is A Drag In 'Alex Cross'
It's a curious truth about Tyler Perry that, when not in drag and playing the outsized role of Madea, he's a recessive screen presence, appearing a little uncomfortable in his own body, awkward and not particularly emotive. When he gives himself a role like the one in Good Deeds, it fits as part of the character, but anchoring a potential action franchise like Alex Cross, he looks like he'd rather be somewhere else.
As the title homicide detective, the protagonist of a series of books by James Patterson and one who's been played in earlier screen incarnations by Morgan Freeman (in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider), Perry can't summon the charisma necessary to make a role that's essentially a melange of police and criminal profiling clichés into something that works either in a serious or schlocky mode. His ungainliness in the action sequences even provoked the odd unintentional laugh at the screening I attended, though he's hardly the only one involved in this film who's on the hook for that. Alex Cross is filled with accidental comedy, and while it's a mess in any traditional movie sense, it's has its moments of preposterous fun that come in the form of a nonsensical plot and a fabulously competent, scenery-gnawing villain.
That villain, who earns the nickname "Picasso" for his habit of leaving charcoal sketches at the scenes of the murders he's committed, is played by Matthew Fox with a near-Tourette's style twitchiness. The guy's a hired gun, we know from the outset, but he's also completely cray-cray, which Fox indicates by keeping his eyes open wide enough for us to always be able to see the full circle of his sclera. With an array of tattoos and seemingly no body fat, Picasso looks to be somewhere between a meth addict and a Marine. Whatever his background, he's not getting paid enough for the convoluted acrobatics he goes through to take down his targets. Buying his way into underground fight rings, scuba-diving through pipes, train takeovers — the dude is not one to just run up to someone on the street and shoot them in the head. In addition to his art fetish, he also has a thing for torturing people and compulsively doing pull-ups.
He is, in other words, hilarious, and Fox's over-the-top portrayal provides a curiously fitting counterbalance to Perry's underplaying, as the two engage in a cat-and-mouse pursuit through Detroit. Picasso is targeting members of an international corporation led by Leon Mercier (Jean Reno) that plans to revitalize the city by making it a center of nanotechnology. The only detail that's important there is that the high-ranking members of the company are all different varieties of asshole foreigners, from the slinky sadist Fan Yau (Stephanie Jacobsen) to germaphobe German Erich Nunemacher (Werner Daehn) to the smug Frenchman Mercier, with his fancy cognac and dismissive attitude. Keep your hands off our troubled city, damn international investors!
Cross lives with his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo, who stole Sparkle away from Jordin Sparks but is in a thankless part here), two kids and sassy mother (Cicely Tyson), and works with his best friend since childhood Tommy (Edward Burns, in a role probably described in its entirety as "Irish-American cop"). His only distinguishing characteristic is his Sherlock Holmes-worthy psychological profiling abilities, which he shows off by listing every detail of his wife's day based on her appearance. He doesn't put these skills to impressive use on the case, however, misreading Picasso as someone who'd be uninterested in chasing down the cops pursuing him — a judgment call that causes him a world of grief.
Alex Cross was directed by Fast and the Furious and Stealth director Rob Cohen, who approaches the film with a bewildering haphazardness. Whenever Fox's character gets angry, the picture splinters like he's the can't-look-directly-at-him baddie from Danny Boyle's Sunshine. A climactic fight scene gets so chopped up that it's impossible to place the characters participating in it, while seemingly mundane sequences of a character researching something on a computer are livened up by the camera being shaken as if we'd get bored if something weren't moving. And boring is something that Alex Cross, for all of its problems, is not.
Despite the rebuilding-of-Detroit angle, there's little specific to the city depicted in Cross and his team's investigation. And there's certainly no attempt to tie in how sorely understaffed the actual Detroit Police Department is. The film does finds a few spectacular repurposed locations that it puts to good use — a church-turned-MMA-ring and an old theater that's been converted into a parking lot both serve as striking backdrops for mostly silly combat sequences. Alex Cross is a misfire, but it's sometimes an entertaining one — enough to make you curious about who else Perry could go up against in another installment, and just how much overacting would take place.
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