Almost 20 years ago bestselling author James Patterson published a thriller titled “Kiss the Girls,” in which he introduced Alex Cross, an African American detective who has been the main character in what soon will be a total of 20 novels. Cross is an outstanding fictional character, and he’s the kind of guy you really want to succeed because if you’ve read all the books, you know he has suffered his fair share of tragedy during his life.
Of course when a character like Cross comes along in fiction, it is only a matter of time until Hollywood becomes involved, and “Kiss the Girls” found its way to the silver screen in 1997 with Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman in the part of Cross. Four years later Freeman reprised his role in “Along Came a Spider,” the sequel based upon Patterson’s second Cross novel. I enjoyed both those films, and obviously Freeman was excellent as the brilliant detective.
Cross recently made his return to the big screen in “Alex Cross,” a film not really based upon a particular Patterson novel, and this time around Tyler Perry, the creator of the irrepressible Madea plays Cross. Unfortunately this film doesn’t measure up to its two predecessors, and Perry should probably continue to hide behind Madea’s skirts because he really doesn’t make a very convincing tough guy. In fact, the entire film is pretty much of a flop as a detective thriller because some of the action is disjointed, more than a little of the acting is inferior, and attempts at creating tension fall completely flat.
The film begins with a chase scene in which it is very difficult who is good and who isn’t, but the apparent purpose of this segment is to introduce Cross and his two cohorts, Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), who are also lovers. After wrapping up the chase and capturing the criminal, Alex bids farewell to Tommy and Monica and heads home.
Alex lives in Detroit with his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), their two children, Janelle (Yara Shahidi) and Damon (Sayeed Shahidi), and Alex’s grandmother, Nana Mama (Cicely Tyson), who pretty much runs the household. If there is a bright spot in this film, the incomparable 79-year-old Tyson provides it with a spot on portrayal of the feisty Nana Mama. She is exactly the way I pictured her in all the books.
Now while all this domesticity is going on, the film switches to a venue of cage fighting where a guy shows up, introduces himself to the promoter as Michael “The Butcher” Sullivan, places a huge bet on himself, and proceeds to win an impromptu match. His participation in this brutal battle is really a ploy to ingratiate himself with Fan Yao (Stephanie Jacobson), who is the COO of a huge corporation and who also loves the violence of cage fighting.
The Butcher’s performance earns him an invitation to Yao’s palatial mansion, where she thinks she is going to seduce him, but he turns out to be the perverted villain in this story. He is a serial killer who does charcoal drawings of his victims in the style of Pablo Picasso, and thus Alex and his team members refer to him as Picasso. And the remainder of the film chronicles Alex’s efforts to bring Picasso to justice.
My main problem with this movie is the casting of Perry in the title role. From the very beginning, his portrayal of Cross seems forced, and he never really appears to be comfortable in the role. His acting is lackluster in places, and he badly overacts in others. But the bottom line is that Perry just isn’t believable as a tough Detroit detective. I’m sure that Madea would strike more terror into the hearts of criminals than Perry’s rendition of Cross does.
But as weak as Perry is in this film, he’s a hell of a lot better than Burns, whose performance as Cross’s sidekick is so bad it’s laughable. He delivers his lines in a monotone as if he’s reading them from a book, and as I watched him, all I could think of is that he must have been graduated summa cum laude from the Keanu Reeves Acting Academy.
Aside from Tyson, whose role in the film is much too abbreviated, the best performance belongs Fox, who imbues Picasso with a chilling indifference toward murder, torture, and mutilation. He also manages to look sufficiently depraved throughout the movie. The only problem with his character is that the storyline doesn’t allow us to get to know him well enough so we can determine what motivates him to act the way he does. In the production notes, Fox offered the following analysis of his character.
“He captures the moment with agonizing Cubist-like sketches because the character becomes more and more obsessed with the actual moment of death. In his mind, he’s giving his victims a moment of truly being alive before they die. He’s very much of an existentialist and the notion of shattering people’s constructs of right and wrong and the way the world should work, but he’s essentially chaos personified.”
As I mentioned earlier, the film fails to establish and maintain and sense of tension and mystery, and the final confrontation between Cross and Picasso is more likely to elicit giggles than anything else. The main part of the fight scene is pathetically choreographed, and the way it ends is ludicrous beyond words. Finally, unless I missed something, one murder in the film makes no sense whatsoever.
I have thoroughly enjoyed every novel Patterson has written about Cross, and I look forward to reading the upcoming ones in the next several months. But “Alex Cross” (Give it a final score of five.) with Perry in the lead role simply doesn’t do the character justice, and if he stars in a sequel you can cross me off the list of those going to see it.