If the name Alex Cross sounds familiar you’re either an avid reader of crime novels or a Morgan Freeman fan.
The character is the star of 20 books by author James Patterson, two films starring Freeman and now a third, the simply titled Alex Cross, with Tyler Perry in the lead role.
In the books and films Cross is a Washington D.C. cop with a Ph.D. in psychology. In other words, as he says in Kiss the Girls, “I’m a forensic psychologist. It’s a fancy way of saying I’m a guy who walks into a room like that and determines the hows and whys.”
Denise Richards channels her inner Tyler Perry
In the new film, Perry, best known as the director and star of the Madea comedies, squares off against a serial killer (Matthew Fox) who claims to have murdered one of the detective’s relatives.
The first Cross novel to make the leap to the big screen was Kiss the Girls, the second book in the series. Denzel Washington was originally set to star, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Morgan Freeman stepped in, starring opposite Ashley Judd.
In the film Cross’s niece disappears, the likely victim of Casanova, a kidnapper and killer of young women. Aiding Cross is Dr. Kate McTiernan (Judd), a surgeon, who narrowly escaped the sadomasochist killer’s grasp.
The movie was a hit with audiences, but not the critics, although Roger Ebert wrote that Freeman and Judd, “are so good, you almost wish they’d decided not to make a thriller at all… and had simply found a way to construct a drama exploring their personalities.”
The movie was withheld from release in central Virginia out of respect for the families of three girls who had been murdered in the area.
Four years later, despite some reservations, Freeman reprised the role. “I didn’t want to do the same thing twice,” he said, adding that he changed his mind because he realized he “liked Alex Cross. And the fact that he’s black is totally incidental. That’s a rare thing for a black actor to find.”
Along Came a Spider sees Cross solve the case of a kidnapped congressman’s daughter. Once again critics hated the film — which currently sits at 32 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes — but praised Freeman’s performance. New York Times scribe Elvis Mitchell called it “a classless, underdeveloped thriller,” but wrote that it “couldn’t be better served than it is by Mr. Freeman.”
Say “Heller!” to the new Alex Cross. The last time we saw the forensic detective on screen he looked a lot like Morgan Freeman. This time out, in the new thriller “Alex Cross,” he looks a lot like a famous mischievous grandma named Madea.
Tyler Perry has stepped into the role and where Freeman played the character with a gravitas and dignity in “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider,” Perry brings a stoicism to Cross that may make the character very attractive to woodpeckers.
Cross is a modern day Sherlock Holmes, a know-it-all who inspires his co-workers to say things like, “Just once I would like it if you got something wrong, ‘cuz this is getting annoying.” When a young, wealthy woman turns up dead, her house littered with murdered security guards, Cross begins to untangle the clues which will lead him to the crazed killer (a skeletal Matthew Fox). As he gets close, he makes a rare mistake in judgment that ends up changing his life.
I’m not a fan of picking apart a movie on the finer details. If the story is really clicking along I think audiences will be engaged enough in the plot to accept some irregularities. “Alex Cross,” however, never connects, so all the story’s inconsistencies suddenly become blinding. For instance, bad guys swapping cars to avoid being followed is nothing new, but here it rings false because the second car is a cab waiting to pick him up in a remote indoor parking garage. In a good movie it would be a blip. Here it contributes to the overall feeling of disbelief.
Disbelief aside, the problems are many, starting with a script peppered with dialogue that sounds TV movie ready. Ed Burns plays a cop whose girlfriend describes him as “just the kind of guy my father told me to avoid,” and later a character advises, “you don’t play the game, the game plays you.” It doesn’t feel like a script, it feels more like a greatest hits of the most over-used lines in movie history. The only cliché that goes unused is, “I’m too old for this ****,” but with the movie’s sequel-ready ending, I’m sure screenwriters are already crafting that line into “Alex Cross 2: My Name’s Not Madea.”
The main problem, the nine hundred pound elephant in the room, though, is Perry. It’s next to impossible to buy into the actor as an action star, let alone one so wooden that I found myself staring at his skin, searching for knots. He’s not given much to work with, that’s for sure, but nor does he elevate the material.
“Alex Cross” is the kind of movie that makes you wish Morgan Freeman was twenty years younger, and still agreeable to chasing down bad guys.