Alex Cross has no idea that it’s a comedy, and that makes it hilarious. In ten years time, I honestly believe that this overly sincere, somewhat misogynistic and embarrassingly clichéd production will be celebrated throughout the entire country as midnight entertainment. Until such a time as it is officially codified as a camp classic, however, we have a movie that thoroughly tanks on its own merits, but could very well be the funniest film of the year. It’s so, so bad, that I totally recommend you see it.
Tyler Perry stars as Alex Cross, a Detroit detective called in to investigate a crime conducted by “Picasso,” a professional killer and total psychopath played by Matthew Fox, who appears to have been force fed PCP before half of his takes. Picasso is the kind of killer who gatecrashes MMA fights, collects fingers in a little bowl and draws cubist illustrations of his murder victims. He’s been hired to assassinate some of the richest and most powerful people in the city, but he’s finally met his match. Alex Cross prevents Picasso from eliminating one of his targets, on the first try at any rate, and in the process becomes Picasso’s latest target. You can tell how that’s going to turn out early in the film, when Cross spends quality time with his family that’s so utterly idyllic that the old “Simpsons” gag with McBain’s partner, just days away from retirement, showing off a picture of a boat he christened “The Live Forever,” seems like subtle foreshadowing.
It’s that unironic dedication to all these tired action movie tropes that makes Alex Cross such an ironic delight. Cross’s banter with the killer, supposedly exploring his psyche for weakness, appears to have come out of a screenwriting textbook, and I defy you not to chortle when he looks directly at the camera and whips out every profiler cliché in the book when describing the villain’s mindset. When Jean Reno shows up as a rich businessman and says nothing of consequence except for calling attention to a flashy ring that he wears, he practically turns to the audience and yells, “Did everyone get that in the back? My ring. It’s gonna to be important later. Stick around and enjoy the show.”
Alex Cross is the kind of film that likes to say things like, “This woman was tortured to death” (I’m paraphrasing) and then cut to a sexy shot of Rachel Nichols boning Ed Burns. Because that’s the association we clearly want to make: the hateful slaughter of women, and women having sex. Indeed, any woman in a position to have sex – essentially everyone but Cicely Tyson and Cross’s pre-teen daughter – does not fare well in this movie. They’re either murder victims, drug addicts or convicted felons. Fortunately, the film is so thoroughly unconvincing that it’s hard to take this misogyny seriously. Alex Cross is one intentional wink away from a full-fledged parody of the genre.
It’s tempting to say that this isn’t Tyler Perry’s fault, since he really does seem to be trying to make this material work. He fails, but at least he’s trying. His character does smart things, but only because they are scripted. We never look at Perry’s face and see that he’s thinking, and especially not on a level above what the audience could think. The only observations he makes that are beyond our reasoning are either obvious, since we’ve already seen something happen before he figures out that it did, or absurd, like folding one of Picasso’s drawings so that it reads the initials of his next victim. Ignoring for a moment that Picasso is supposed to be a professional, and not trying to get caught for the usual narcissistic serial killer reasons, it’s a cubist drawing. There are lots of straight lines and angles on there. Anyone could fold that piece of paper five different ways and wind up with different letters every time.
Alex Cross ends with a fight scene so shoddily filmed and hazily edited that it’s like Rob Cohen is daring us not to watch it. The important thing isn’t who’s fighting whom, it’s that this is the kind of film that ends in a fight scene. It’s the kind of film in which police officers drive priceless sports cars. It’s the kind of film where the bad guy wears shoes with individual toes on them. It’s the kind of film you can’t possibly take seriously, and that’s a good thing, because if it were, Alex Cross would be one of the worst films of the year. Instead, it’s a delight, and I can’t wait to see its complete celebration of utter clichéd insanity again and again.