Talk about lean and mean. Matthew Fox makes one scary, intense torture killer for hire in “Alex Cross,” a thriller based on the novel by best-selling author James Patterson.
And it’s amazing how much Cicely Tyson can do with practically no screen time, playing Alex’s tough Nana Mama. Maybe the movie would be better if it were rewritten as “Alex Cross’ Mother.”
Unfortunately, it’s not, and director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) is not so astute with all his casting.
Tyler Perry plays Cross, the forensic psychologist who has fueled 18 best-selling Patterson novels so far. Cross is the kind of clue hound who, as his police partner says, can smell from a hundred yards away if you had scrambled eggs for breakfast.
It took a little while to get Perry’s signature cross-dressed character, Madea, out of my head. Once I did, I noticed that he carried the warm, fuzzy family scenes fine. But he was not as credible as a hardened detective in angry pursuit.
He was competent, yes, but since we’ve already seen Morgan Freeman play Alex Cross in two so-so movies (“Along Came a Spider,” “Kiss the Girls”), it’s hard to miss Perry’s shortcomings in comparison.
The script shifts Cross’ home in the books (Washington, D.C.) to Detroit, where a wealthy corporate figure and her bodyguards are slaughtered all over her extravagant home. She is made to die slowly, for the pleasure of the killer.
Reading the crime scene, Alex almost instantly declares the killer “a sulking, narcissistic sociopath who wants somebody to pay,” and the chase is on.
It soon becomes apparent a corporate bigwig (Jean Reno, sleep-walking) and all his top officers are the killer’s target. When someone close to Alex gets in the way, the case becomes highly personal.
Subplots involving Alex’s pregnant wife, his two detective partners (Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols), who are breaking the rules by having an affair, and a police chief bucking to become mayor (John C. McGinley from “Scrubs” doesn’t fit this part, either) feel more like plot devices than integral parts of the story.
The movie has a choppy, pointless opening chase and shootout, among several stretches that could have been left on the cutting room floor and not been missed.
The plot lacks credibility (a killer this clever would have a satellite tracking device in his vehicle?), and the violence is disturbing and off-putting (though mostly offscreen).
On the other hand, Cohen and cinematographer Ricardo Della Rosa have an eye for artfully filling the frame. A climactic pursuit in the crumbling attic of the Renaissance-style Michigan Theater, now a parking garage, is at least visually interesting — though the way the action sequences are shot and edited often feels confusing.
“Alex Cross” is a mediocre crime drama — not wretched, not great, not as exciting as it ought to be. Take away Fox and Tyson and that grand old theater, and the mystery would be why anybody should go out of their way to see it.
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