It has taken a long time for Hollywood to do right by detective and psychologist Alex Cross. Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider were entertaining movies, but there was something lost in the translation from page to screen when this iconic character made his film debut back in the 90s. Yes, he was portrayed by the great Morgan Freeman, an actor we all love and have an impossible time trying to criticize, but if he couldn’t bring us the Dr. Cross that James Patterson brought to life on the written page then something just isn’t right.
But now, Rob Cohen, director of The Fast and the Furious, has given us the cinematic reboot that is Alex Cross, and it gives us a more definitive take on the heroic character than the previous movies were ever able to. It also serves as a reminder of what a terrific action director Cohen can be when he’s given the right material. While this movie may look like yet another cop-chasing-serial-killer flick, Cohen keeps it from becoming that thanks to a game cast, taut action scenes and a surprising dose of raw emotion.
Cohen also lucked out with the actor he cast as Dr. Cross this time around – Tyler Perry. Many shook their heads in disbelief when they found that the man who gave us Madea would be taking on the role previously portrayed by Freeman. But nothing Perry has done before this (not even his dramatic turn in Good Deeds) will prepare you for just how badass he is here as Cross. Seeing him speak in a deadly serious tone while carrying a heavy duty shotgun makes one thing clear about Perry’s take on the role: this is the character that James Patterson created years ago.
Alex Cross takes us back to the beginning before Dr. Cross crossed over to the FBI. Working in the homicide unit along with his partner and childhood friend Tommy Kane (Ed Burns), they keep up a strong track record of taking down the bad guys before they can do any more harm. Cross is also shown to be a loving husband to his wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo) and father to his two kids. And if Cross isn’t around to keep an eye on his kids, he can always rely on his grandmother Nana Mama (a feisty Cicely Tyson) to keep them in line.
Cross’ idyllic world, however, is soon disrupted by the appearance of an especially vicious serial killer named Picasso (Matthew Fox). Taking out his victims with zero remorse and clinical precision, Picasso is one of the most unnerving psychopaths to be found in any movie released this year. Fox, light years away from his role as Jack Shephard on Lost, underwent a huge transformation to where he shed 40 pounds to attain the lean physique his character demands. It’s a ballsy performance to say the least as Fox dives deep into Picasso’s dark side, and the actor never shies away from just how disturbing a character this is.
After foiling Picasso’s plans, Cross soon ends up in the killer’s sights as he does not take failure especially well. This causes Picasso to change the course of Cross’ life, and in return Cross vows to avenge those who have lost their lives at the killer’s hands.
Now, Alex Cross doesn’t really break any new ground in the realm of crime thrillers or vigilante movies, but what matters most is its execution. Cohen had a budget of $24 million for this film, far less than the reported $145 million budget he had on his last picture The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
With limited resources, he succeeds in creating a movie that combines action scenes and strong performances with some genuinely raw emotion that you don’t expect to find in a film like this. This especially shows in scenes where Cross tries to comfort his devastated daughter (Yara Shahidi is heartbreaking to watch) as she is confronted with just how brutally unfair life can be.
Alex Cross also benefits from a well-chosen cast that invests their roles with a lot of excitement. Ed Burns is a lot of fun to watch as Cross’ partner Tommy Kane, and he keeps the character from becoming just another dumb partner. Kane and Cross have a long history together, and Burns matches wits with Perry in every scene they share.
Rachel Nichols co-stars as Detective Monica Ashe who works closely with Dr. Cross and even more closely with Tommy. Nichols has appeared in several movies already like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Charlie Wilson’s War and even J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. But after watching her in Alex Cross, it will be impossible to forget who she is as she provides a very strong and alluring presence.
In addition to those actors, you have Giancarlo Esposito providing a sharp cameo as crime boss Daramus Holiday, Jean Reno playing frightened CEO Leon Mercier and John C. McGinley, who gives a lot of gusto to the typical blowhard police captain character of Richard Brookwell. Of course, there’s no forgetting Ms. Tyson who proves to be as no nonsense as they come in her portrayal of Nana Mama. Her brief scenes with Perry carry a fire as she sternly warns him of the path he is about to take.
As I said before, Alex Cross doesn’t do anything particularly new in the thriller genre, and its ending is pulled together a little too neatly. But the movie does rise above many others in its genre thanks to a filmmaker and a cast that were eager to give us something that was more than just average. There’s no forgetting many elements of this reboot after you leave the theater, especially Matthew Fox, who succeeds in giving us one hell of a scary psychopath.
But when all is said and done, all eyes will be on Perry, who boldly steps out of his comfort zone to embrace a new role that tests his worth. After watching him in Alex Cross, it will be crystal clear to everyone why he was cast. This is a real game changer for him, and he comes out swinging.
Thanks to a game cast, taut action scenes and a surprising dose of raw emotion, Alex Cross finally gets the movie that he deserves.