'Alex Cross': Murder to Watch
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"I got it wrong, man. I got it wrong and look what happened." So reflects the title character of this movie at a crucial juncture. That is, after he, played here by Tyler Perry, and his partner, portrayed by Edward Burns, have lost loved ones at the hands of a specialty assassin who is also a sexually twisted sadist. But the observation has a deeper resonance outside the world of the film than it does inside that world. Somebody got it wrong. A lot of people got it wrong. And the result is one of the most ridiculous, laughable and dim-bulbed serial killer thrillers in recent memory or ever. Seriously, people, this movie is to "Silence of the Lambs" as "I Am Number Four" is to "E.T."
Perry is a maestro in his own domain of feisty message films but not necessarily a go-to performer for rebooting a potential detective franchise. Given that the African-American kind-of-Sherlockish-but-with-a-big-heart character Cross, the creation of author -- or perhaps the better term is popular genre prose manufacturer -- James Patterson, was last portrayed in movies by Morgan Freeman, you could say that Perry, a largely untested performer outside of his own very particular bailiwick (he's Madea, you know), has some big shoes to fill. But you know, as formidable a presence as Freeman is in every movie he's in, the Alex Cross character was not quite made indelible by the actor. Perry performs competently in this movie insofar as he delivers dialogue and pantomimes actions such as shooting at people. But he can't be said to be portraying a character because the screenwriters, or maybe even Patterson himself, haven't created one. There's nothing in this movie that Alex Cross does that reflects any kind of human complexity or ambiguity. Even when he "gets mad" and "goes rogue" and conducts an illegal raid on an evidence room (one of the livelier moments in the largely inert movie, it happens), he's just carrying out a series of story point orders, more or less.
And the story is abominable. A ticcy assassin who earns the nickname "Picasso" because of his artistic talent begins a kinky killing spree, leaving behind so thoroughly traceable a path that the case would have been solved by an intern on any random "Law & Order" episode before the first commercial break, for heaven's sake. This schmoe is played by Matthew Fox, whose shaved head and tattoos are indicators that he's perfected time travel and come to 2012 directly from a Ministry show in 1991.
The movie's complete lack of scares and suspense derive from many factors, including a lot of shilly-shallying no doubt designed to preserve a PG-13 MPAA rating. But that's not the only thing. Directed by Rob Cohen, the movie's whole atmosphere is so third-hand and chintzy that the standard comparisons that come to mind (to a Lifetime movie, say) simply won't do. This is atrocious filmmaking of a particular sort, the kind that actually needs tens of millions of dollars to exist. It'd be kind of funny if one could keep from thinking of the actual good movies that this money could have funded. Like a remake of "The Room," maybe.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.