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‘Alex Cross’ offers action, but lacks imagination

By Gary Clift

The thing about the new movie “Alex Cross” is that little imagination seems to have been used in its making. I mean, it has its wounded hero sitting on the tail gate of an ambulance, rehashing the events of the battle at the story’s climax.

The dialog seems to have been manufactured out of pre-fabricated sentences, so that all of it sounds familiar and yet none of it seems to fit together exactly. In one early scene in which the two police detectives are getting instructions from the Chief, their relationship seems to change from collegial to suspicious in mid-conversation and without any inherent reason. The writer simply used up the friendly phases and went to the suspicious idioms to fill things out.

This lack of fresh thinking is too bad, because one can see that by accepting the lead role in this cop thriller,  Tyler Perry is trying to do something different from his huge-female-impersonator comedies and his couples-in-crisis dramadies. One hopes for the best, that he will be rewarded for trying something new.

But what he’s tried is only “new” to him. And meanwhile, he has to act beside Edward Burns (not Edward Kookie Burns, but Edward Indy-film Burns) who is better at stuff like crying than he is. And, then, some viewers may keep waiting for Medea to appear and settle things by hitting the psychotic killer in the head with a frying pan.

There is no Medea to save the day in “Alex Cross.”

Based on a James Patterson novel and directed by action picture specialist Rob Cohen, “Alex Cross” is a story set in contemporary, decaying Detroit. Perry plays the title character, a doctor of psychology who works as a police detective in partnership with his childhood buddy Tommy (Burns). Tommy is falling in love with cop team member Monica (Rachel Nichols). Alex has a wife, two kids, a mother (Cicely Tyson), and another job offer.

Is this already familiar? Well, the action begins with Alex and Tom chasing a man through sewer tunnels. Once he’s dead, they are called out to the scene of a spooky set of murders identified (for reasons I didn’t understand) as the work of a well-known serial killer. Well, the guy isn’t a serial killer. He’s a psychotic hit man who has just killed (and, in one case, tortured) the employees of a local developer (played by Jean Reno).

Following a clue apparently based on the old fold-up back covers of Mad Magazine, Alex, Tom, and Monica manage to stave off the killing of the developer. This makes the killer angry, though later events call his motivation into question. Anyway, the killer goes after Tom and Alex by killing Monica and the wife.

So we get the familiar graveside scene, when the killer (Matthew Fox channeling Robert Patrick and whining) shows up for a peek. And then we have the wake scene, where Alex has to have a talk with his bereaved daughter. We’ve seen this stuff before.

We’ve even seen mixed martial arts bouts in action films before. Here the killer gets into one of those, breaking the arm of the king of Detroit’s octagon ring. Later this same killer can’t fend off Alex, and one wonders about the contrast, and about the close in filming which makes it impossible to see what’s happening. Anyway, the rest of the film is about attempts to protect the developer and to chase down the murderer, with a little interdepartmental fighting thrown in, pretty much without preparation, just to keep the treatment at the level of a t.v. detective show.

What one wants from action movies is imaginative action. “Alex Cross” offers action, all right. But imagination? Look elsewhere.

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