Movie review: Alex Cross

By Mark Lieberman

Who is Alex Cross? Even after an entire movie with his name in the title, the answer is brief and uncomplicated. He’s a really talented homicide detective who loves his wife and kids. And…that’s about it. Mere simplicity can be refreshing, but Cross is also generic, empty and bland.

At least the movie is consistent with its lead’s attributes. “Alex Cross” is passably involving and features the occasional exciting action sequence. But its cookie-cutter plot, shaky performances and uninspired visuals make for one unimpressive viewing experience.

Unsubtle dialogue and tired music cues telegraph most plot points, and the scenes featuring the eponymous character’s family are needlessly cloying. The movie’s most admirable achievement is that it is formulaic but inoffensive. Faint praise indeed.

The basic plot will be familiar to anyone who watches an average episode of a crime procedural on CBS. Alex Cross (Tyler Perry of the “Madea” films, acting for the first time in a movie he did not direct) is a homicide detective and psychologist with an uncanny ability to interpret crime scenes based on little observable evidence, a la Sherlock Holmes.

Cross meets his match with an emaciated serial killer called “The Butcher” (Matthew Fox, “Vantage Point”) who commits an act of personal significance to Cross, forcing the police officer to abandon his rule-abiding manner and seek revenge. As he pursues the twisted killer, Cross and his partner Tommy Kane (Edward Burns, “Man on a Ledge”) discover that “The Butcher” may be tied to a larger operation involving industrialist Leon Mercier (Jean Reno, “Les Seigneurs”).

The plot description alone is indication of this movie’s lack of originality, but the script by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson is also rife with unnecessary plot detours. Tommy’s romantic life is prominent in one early scene only to completely disappear for the rest of the film. The movie discards a crime boss in a car dealership after a single scene, wasting the formidable talents of “Breaking Bad” actor Giancarlo Esposito. Alex’s wife, kids and fellow detectives are woefully underdeveloped and difficult to care about.

Colorful performances might have compensated for the plot fatigue, but “Alex Cross” falls short in this regard as well. Perry is far from abysmal in his first action hero role, but he’s stiff rather than engaging or distinctive. His oversize frame and soft delivery are ill-suited to tasks like pointing a gun, and his emotional moments are overwrought, although his charisma occasionally shines through. He’s competent in a role that could have used an overachiever like Idris Elba, a reliably compelling dramatic and comedic actor who signed on as Cross before dropping out (a wise career move).

Fox, meanwhile, seems to be straining for a creepy, off-kilter vibe but comes off as overly well-mannered and sometimes laughable. Despite admirable effort, the effect is off-putting in the wrong way.

The director is Rob Cohen of “The Fast and the Furious,” who acquits himself decently in the propulsive sequences but falters with clunky banter between the leads and saccharine moments with Cross’ children.

Even the action moments are unsatisfactory. The manically edited fights render the individual characters indiscernible, and the explosions look cheap and unconvincing.

Ultimately, “Alex Cross” is the umpteenth example of the Hollywood machine at its most cynical and lazy. By putting Perry, an established box-office star, in a genre with established box-office credibility, the studio likely hopes to merge two audiences for maximum profit. Maximum quality, however, proves far more elusive.

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