Movie Review – Alex Cross

For a movie whose only marketing plan is the public knowledge that it’s   “Based on James Patterson’s Best-Selling Novel,” I went in to see Alex Cross with very low expectations.

Maybe they weren’t low enough.

Production-wise, Alex Cross was fine. Sets were great. Stunts were good. Effects were good. The sound was excellent. The only music I remember was a song about “drivin’ in my Caddy” which reinforced the fact that much of the film was sponsored by Cadillac. I forgot to look, but I’ll bet there is a “Cadillac Waxer” in the credits someplace.

This movie does threaten to steal the title of “worst camera work ever” from the Blair Witch Project. One person I was with walked out of the movie close to the end because the camera flopped around so much. It would have worked better if the director had actually stepped into the shot and told the audience to increase their tension. Yes, it was that bad. Face it Hollywood, shaky-cam takes people OUT of the movie. In this case, literally out of the theater. Get a tripod.

You’ll need to let go of any preconceived notions you had from watching Morgan Freeman play the character Alex Cross in Kiss The Girls (1997) and Along Came A Spider (2001). Tyler Perry’s version of Alex Cross in this 12th book of the series is a completely different creature, and many reviewers are not pleased by that difference. But according to a Today Show interview with James Patterson (who helped produce the film) Tyler Perry is more like the character from the books than Morgan Freeman.

Of course Tyler Perry is no Morgan Freeman, but I’m willing to let him make the character his own, and I had no qualms about his acting abilities. Tyler does a good job… with the script he had. In fact, this can be said of all the other actors in the film, which calls attention to the real problem – the writing. Alex Cross is daytime T.V. quality at best, and not Hollywood. As a writer, it pains me to see something with such a strong pedigree do so poorly on account of the writing – something that should have had quality established way before anyone shook hands on a movie deal.

I never read the story this film was based on, called Cross, but here are some issues with the movie version that make me wonder how it ever could have evolved from a bestselling novel:

This time, it’s (completely, unnecessarily) personal

Alex Cross is a detective/criminal psychologist. When a houseful of people are found dead, one of them tortured to death, Alex is brought in to investigate. He begins to track down an assassin nicknamed The Butcher, and also nicknamed Picasso, played excellently by Matthew Fox. Despite the fact that Alex is a detective and Picasso is an assassin who killed a house full of people, there’s an awful lot of time spent motivating Alex to catch/stop him. I won’t bore you with details, but things get personal, then things get More Personal, and then EVEN MORE PERSONAL to the point where you wish we could just get back to the real story of who hired this assassin and why he killed a houseful of people. Who hired him? Why?

Apparently we aren’t supposed to care about all that. All the global conspiracy and espionage are sidelined to focus on Alex and Picasso as they battle each other physically, mentally and emotionally. Every scene in the movie tries so  desperately  to elicit an emotional response that the film threatens to burst under its own emotional weight, while the more interesting storyline disappears until the very last few minutes of the movie, when everything is resolved in a long distance phone call. Talk about anti-climax.

Alex Cross… Psychic?

The astonishing leaps of deduction that Alex Cross makes would make Sherlock Holmes gawk in wonder:

  • A glance at a house full of dead people and Alex KNOWS the killer worked alone?
  • Two marks on the table and Alex KNOWS they were left by a laptop? And he KNOWS “…that’s probably what the killer was after.”???
  • A bowl full of severed fingers, and Alex KNOWS the person was tortured to get the password for the laptop? The same laptop that isn’t there?
  • Alex folds up a sketch left by the killer at the crime scene to produce two initials and somehow Alex KNOWS it’s the initials of the next person on the killer’s hitlist? Huh? How did he know it wasn’t the killers own initials? How did Alex know there was a hitlist?

These are just a tiny taste of the impossible leaps of intellect the audience has to swallow in one short scene of the movie. The entire movie was filled with them, and the only possible explanations are that Alex Cross is psychic, or that James Patterson is a lazy writer. It must be the latter, because any detective with such strong psychic abilities should have been able to figure out the killer and the motive over their lunch break.

I can’t imagine that fans of crime fiction would tolerate plot gaps chained together by magical deductions of this magnitude. Audiences have to suspend their disbelief, but this is like putting your disbelief in a gimp outfit and locking it in a closet.

Alex Cross… Rogue?

There is a short scene in which Alex and his partner bypass security and break into the police station, and then beat up two cops to steal evidence. The scene is ludicrous, unnecessary and so absurd that audience members were snickering, myself included. Why didn’t he just bribe the guy in the evidence dept with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts? And where did Alex Cross suddenly learn police security system hacking?  Why not steal a nuclear bomb and blow up the whole city? Then you’d get the bad guy for sure!

Executive Summary Review

It’s clear that James Patterson wants to raise his character to a name-brand franchise like James Bond or Jason Bourne. The problem is that those films are plot-driven, while Alex Cross tries to be character-driven, and unfortunately, the personality just isn’t there to support the film. Some reviewers are blaming Tyler Perry for this, but I blame the writer. I went to see a story about a cop trying to stop an assassin hired to kill off high-ranking businessmen in a global conspiracy….

…and instead, I saw a story about a boringly bland, psychic, daddy-cop who gets a half-movie’s worth of motivation to catch the bad guy he was assigned to catch anyway, and then in the second half of the film, he breaks almost as many laws and kills almost as many people as the bad guy. And at the end, the real bad guy behind all of this is nothing more than an afterthought, wrapped up with a two minute phone call.

There are many people who encourage authors NOT to self-publish because of quality issues. I don’t generally agree, but here is a shining example of an author self-producing his own movie, and the results are embarrassing. You can watch the movie Seven (ironically starring Morgan Freeman) to see what I think James Patterson was trying to accomplish, but don’t waste your time on  Alex Cross. I can only hope the books aren’t this bad.

Conrad Zero

Yours Darkly, Conrad Zero