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I was intrigued when I saw the trailer for Alex Cross some time ago, but there were two things about it that heightened my skepticism - First, the trailer went to extraordinary lengths to promote style over substance, and second but most certainly not least, Tyler Perry wasn't reaching out to me in a way that said, "I belong in this role." Still, I was interested to see how Matthew Fox would command the screen as the ambitious villain, so I stayed away from any and all reviews until I was able to check this out on Blu-ray (staying away from word of mouth wasn't a problem, because nobody I knew personally had seen this film, let alone heard of it). I wasn't expecting a masterpiece or anything, but I was hoping Alex Cross would at least be a decent way to kill an evening where I had nothing else going on. I guess that was just foolish thinking on my part. This is a Rob Cohen film after all, and I've loathed everything he's ever committed to celluloid. I mean, with a filmography that includes such efforts as The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and The Mummy - Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, how could I be so naive?
Basically, this film is the epitome of every crime/suspense cliché in the book. Meet Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), a detective with an uncanny ability to solve mysteries with little to no evidence to go on. His partner/best friend is a wise-crackin' womanizer he's known since kindergarten, but when Alex begins to contemplate a higher paying job with the FBI to better provide for his ever expanding family, there's instantly trouble in buddy-cop paradise. Before having a chance to discuss it further, they're called to investigate a grisly set of murders. Multiple armed guards were sent into 'early retirement' and a woman in lingerie is dead with her fingers cut off. Alex seemingly channels John Edward as soon as he arrives, because he 'just knows' that such an elaborate job was the work of a lone psychopath; a conclusion he reaches without even sweeping the entire crime scene. They find a charcoal etched picture the killer leaves behind, so they refer to him from that point on as 'Picasso'. The first thing anyone should do with such an important piece of evidence, is to do some freelance origami with it, right? Right, and this is how Cross happens to find a clue as to who the next victim might be. The 'Picasso' killer makes things very personal in this game of cat and mouse however, leaving Cross no other choice but to set his badge aside and take this hardened criminal down himself.
A story about a detective so intelligent, everyone around him seems like an oafish goon? Check. A villain that comes packaged with every predictable, groan inducing line imaginable? Check. The typical 'don't take that desk job because you'll hate it' dilemma? Check. An end-game that's fueled by a 'now it's personal so throw caution to the wind' attitude? Check. A sickeningly sweet family dynamic introduced merely for the sake of pulling on our heart strings later on? Check. The list goes on. Making a good movie seemingly wasn't on their checklist, so they just decided to borrow from a bunch of other ones. That may sound a bit harsh, but it's honestly the most unoriginal film I've seen in quite some time.
Now, for the elephant in the room - Tyler Perry, best known for his never ending Madea franchise, just isn't suited for this kind of film. The marketing campaign heavily promoted this as a film that features the actor as we've 'never seen him before', but considering people are used to seeing him yuk it up in drag as an over reactive criminal, you could throw him in any role and say exactly the same thing. In reality, Perry just doesn't have the acting chops required to play such a brilliant detective. It's refreshing to see Perry play things straight for once, but he may have been overcompensating because there's very little emotional range on display whatsoever. Contextually, Cross is living a great life at first, only to have it all come crashing down, subsequently putting everything on the line in order to exact his revenge... but thanks to Perry's hollow performance, I couldn't buy a single minute of it. He was more or less in the same 'zone' from beginning to end, and whenever he was supposed to emote upset or rage, it just felt pathetically weak. As a result of his inability to provide justice to the role, his character never connects with anyone else in the film, making the 'high stakes' game at play null and void.
Surprisingly enough though, Perry isn't the film's biggest flaw - It's the screenplay. Besides the noted lack of originality, the characters are wildly uneven and the plot is hastily thrown together. There are plenty of pieces in the story that were introduced merely for the sake of manipulating our emotions, but because none of the secondary characters are even minimally developed, there's no reason to care about what happens to them. Then there's the molding of the title character himself - How is it that Cross is able to just 'know' things without so much as a clue? I'll buy any story with a character that's worked hard to be the best in their field, but what Cross accomplishes time and time again is just unbelievable by any stretch. His brilliant deductions can only be perceived as mere coincidence at best, yet Cohen and writers Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson continually expect us to be thoroughly impressed. Crime thrillers are at their best when a string of sound logic can be followed from A to Z, but there's little of that to be found in the film. Considering Marc Moss was credited with the horrendous script for Along Came a Spider, I'm not surprised that Alex Cross turned out the way it did. However, Along Came a Spider had Morgan Freeman to save the film a little face, whereas the latest entry in the Cross-verse doesn't even come close to offering such a compelling lead.
Despite the fact Alex Cross is comically bad more often than not, I have to admit that there were flashes of brilliance that kept snapping me back to attention. The little excitement that does manage to hit the mark can be attributed to Matthew Fox's portrayal of the demented Picasso. It's worth noting that Fox has undergone an impressive transformation, bulking up muscle and eradicating every shred of fat. As far as how he commands the screen? Honestly, every time he was in a scene, the film was temporarily revitalized with a much needed jolt. I couldn't wait to see what he was going to do next, and when it was time to go back to Alex's side of the story, I couldn't wait for Picasso to return and up the ante. Matthew Fox is so good as a matter of fact, that he's ironically a contributing factor to the film's unevenness. Perry's portrayal of Cross is so bland and low-key, while Fox is so intense and electrifying that they're completely mismatched against one another. That being said, Fox just isn't able to work a miracle - Although he turns in a brilliant performance, he's unable to dredge Alex Cross from the depths of failure that Cohen and Moss have sunk this film to. The film's trailer pretty much tells you the entirety of the story anyway, so if you're looking to save yourself a lot of time and pulled hair, you're better off watching the full length trailer and leaving it at that.
Alex Cross comes to Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.39:1). Rob Cohen is very proud of the fact he decided to capture all the action on film as opposed to digital capture, and I have to give him credit in this respect. As nice as digital can be, there's a certain look that only film can provide to the masses, and Alex Cross definitely benefits stylistically from this decision. The image is consistently sharp and detailed with information to provide an astonishing level of depth and dimensionality. That may go without saying in regards to a recent film, but there are quite a few shots near the end that will take your breath away. Colors are flawlessly reproduced, while contrast and black levels remain strong throughout - There are many moments in the film that rely on shadows and nighttime, and details are never crushed as a result. As far as the encode itself is concerned, there's no digital noise reduction to worry about, as the fine layer of grain that adds to the film's grit has been nicely preserved. There's also no banding or compression artifacts to report, either. Regardless of how you feel about this film, there's no denying that it's a looker in high-def.
Presented with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, Alex Cross is just as stunning in the audio department. Much of the film is driven by dialogue, and it comes across crisp and clear throughout the entire runtime, regardless of what's happening on-screen. As far as the track's design in the surround department, it's completely immersive - There's a subtle bit of environmental ambience more often than not, whereas the action will make you feel like you're smack-dab in the thick of things. Explosions, bullets, footsteps pounding in a chase... you name it, and it's been given pinpoint precision accuracy. The LFE also adds a pretty nice 'oomph' to parts of the score and action, but is never overstated merely for the sake of doing so. None of this could have been possible if the film had been treated to a narrow dynamics, but the range on this track ensures that realism and accuracy is never sacrificed. In short, there's absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the audio presentation on this disc.
Considering this film was critically panned (and rightfully so), I suppose it's no surprise that the studio didn't go all out for a long list of extravagant supplements. What we have been given hits the mark, though:
-Director Commentary with Rob Cohen - This film is a disaster in nearly every respect, but Rob Cohen hops behind the mic and delivers one hell of a commentary. He goes in-depth with every aspect of the film, from the controversial casting of Tyler Perry, to the development of the Picasso character, and of course all of the technical components that went into bringing the film from storyboard to the big-screen. Regardless if you love or hate him as a director, there's no denying his love for the craft of filmmaking, and it's admirable that he stands proud and tall and backs all of his decisions up with very thoughtful explanations. This is a must listen, no matter how you feel about Alex Cross.
-The Psychologist and the Butcher - Adapting and Filming Alex Cross - Just over 14 minutes in length, this featurette delivers some enlightening interviews with those involved with the film's development, as well as Cross author James Patterson himself.
-Deleted Scenes - Just over five minutes in length, I was hoping the deleted scenes may have shed a little more light on the secondary characters, but no such luck. The film seemingly wasn't trimmed just for pacing reasons - The characters were just poorly fleshed out from the beginning.
After the main title card, the camera pans down and zooms into the black depths of a sewer. That says plenty, but if that isn't blunt enough, Alex Cross is a big uneven mess. The lack of character development means we never care about how the secondary characters are affected by the ruthless Picasso, making a fair chunk of the film's minor plot threads absolutely meaningless. Alex Cross himself could have been intriguing if a worthy actor stepped up to the plate, but Tyler Perry just couldn't deliver any of the emotional range that was required, let alone pass as one of the best detectives in the world. The only part of the film that truly stands out is Matthew Fox's portrayal of the Picasso killer, but even then, poorly scripted dialogue left me wincing. If you absolutely must see this train wreck of a film however, at least the A/V presentation is top notch. Skip It.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!