ALex Cross

Tyler Perry is one of the biggest money-makers in Hollywood today.  His “Madea” franchise (4 films) is a perennial fan favorite among his dozen feature length films, he has a successful television series, and like Ben Affleck, he has written, directed and produced as well.  But the recently released “Alex Cross” is his first serious departure from comedy into the suspense genre.

Based on James Patterson’s novel, “Alex Cross” tells the story of a Detroit detective investigating a gruesome murder in which the victim was tortured to death.  He determines that this crime was a gangland hit and correctly guesses the next victim, arriving in time to foil the assassin’s plot.  Enraged, the murderer then chooses to wreak vengeance on Alex Cross’ family, and Cross, a hitherto law-abiding do-gooder and devoted family man, breaks all the rules to get his man.

“Alex Cross” is first-rate film-making.  The dialogue is crisp and the chemistry between the actors crackles with intensity.  Tyler Perry (“Madea’s Family Reunion”) is surprisingly compelling as Alex Cross.  Edward Burns (“27 Dresses”) plays his sidekick Tommy whose major contribution is Watson to Cross’ Sherlock Holmes: he testifies as to the lead character’s brilliance.  Matthew Fox (“Vantage Point”) portrays the unnamed psychotic killer with foaming-at-the-mouth intensity.  Jean Reno (“The Da Vinci Code”) is the ambitious debtor to the mob that is the ultimate target of the killer.  Cicely Tyson (“The Help”) has a sympathetic cameo as Cross’ mother.

The action is well-paced and exciting with excellent chases and fights; the death scenes are classic old-school Hollywood: more grisly than graphic with the horror written on the faces of the people more than images of bodily injury.  Still, thematically, this should be an R-rated feature rather than PG 13.

Unlike “Argo”, “Alex Cross” allows the audience to get to know the characters and care for them, and that is one serious difference in the style of the films.  “Argo” seems to be more interested in broad political statements; “Alex Cross” is more old-fashioned suspense which is character driven: the audience cares for the victims and the cops and is repulsed by the monstrosity of the villain.  It’s not as gripping as “Silence of the Lambs” (and its villain not nearly as entertaining), but it still jerks you along with its often implausible journey and offers a few surprises along the way.  Director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) and writers Marc Moss (“Along Came a Spider”) and Kenny Williamson have done a good job adapting Mr. Patterson’s best-selling novel to the screen.  “Argo” on the other hand, seems almost to attempt a documentary style, with hand-held camera and often gritty cinematography and almost intentionally distances itself from the characters, often to its detriment.  It is as if Director Ben Affleck wanted to tell the audience they were witnessing history instead of involved in a personal story—any empathy had to originate with the audience.  If “Alex Cross” had been as impersonal as “Argo,” it would have failed; if “Argo” had been as connected as “Alex Cross” it would have been outstanding.

But “Alex Cross” is far from a perfect movie.  The final fight scene, while flamboyant in its setting, is darkly lit and unexciting; the special effects (particularly a CG explosion) are unconvincing; and when analyzed, the plot is just too far-fetched to be thoroughly believable.  Still, it is filmed with enough panache and old-school technique to make it enjoyable, if not memorable.

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