Alex Cross (US - BD RA)
Gabe sort of love/hates this patently stupid movie starring Tyler Perry...
When I heard the name of playwright/screenwriter/director/actor/cross-dresser Tyler Perry, I used to think of a worst-case scenario for African American cinema. Having only seen parts of his massive oeuvre (he’s written and directed 12 films in seven years), I made a series of assumptions. First, I realized Perry’s mix of mawkish melodrama and cross-dressing buffoonery was not for me. Then, I realized his work constantly verged on being genuinely offensive – minus the level of irony placed on negative cultural stereotypes by other comedic writer/actors, like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. In the end, I’m not sure I have the right to be offended on behalf of Black America – that’s up to people like Ebony Magazine editor Jamilah Lemieux, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority author Tom Burrell, and notorious cranky-pants Spike Lee. In the end, I prefer to harp on the general awfulness of his films, which, in small doses, I found more obnoxious than even Martin Lawrence’s similarly idiotic movies. But then I started hanging out with Badassdigest.com contributor Evan Saathoff, who is a reigning expert on all things ‘Tyler Perry.’ Evan argues that Perry is a true auteur filmmaker – and he’s right, especially if we’re going by the textbook definition of ‘auteur,’ which merely denotes a filmmaker with a distinctive style as being the chief creative force behind a film. Technically, Ed Wood is an auteur director. I realized I had to approach Perry in the same fashion – to appreciate his aesthetic oddness and repetitive Christian morals as something uniquely him. His massive output also draws comparisons to Jess Franco, another schlocky filmmaker that could technically be labeled an auteur. Of course, this is all theory at this point, because I’ve still been unable to finish an entire Tyler Perry movie.
Then there’s author James Patterson, who writes crime novels that epitomize the kind of thing people buy at the airport because they realize they’ve forgotten to pack a real book. Patterson has written 19 books starring Dr. Alexander ‘The Peanut Butter Man’ Cross (there’s a 13th set to be released this year). The first two of these novels, Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, were adapted into Hollywood movies starring Morgan Freeman (fresh off of a similar detective role in David Fincher’s Seven) in the title role. These two films (made out of order, if that matters) were reasonably popular and inspired the rights holders to reboot the series with a younger actor, similar to the post-Harrison Ford Jack Ryan (which is now being rebooted again under the similarly simple title Jack Ryan). This reboot project, based on the 12th book in the series (and the first to not have a title based on a nursery rhyme) was original scheduled to be directed by David Twohy (who usually sticks to science fiction movies that nobody watches) and star perpetually up-and-coming superstar Idris Elba. At some point the producers decided they wanted to make a popular movie rather than a good movie. Perry was approached in hopes of starting a ‘Madea’-sized franchise that would appeal to a wider range of viewers (Perry’s movies don’t make much money outside of black American) and the less-popular director/actor team was swept aside. I imagine there was quite a bit of behind the scenes strife when the production was handed over (Elba has been outspoken about Perry’s use of cultural stereotypes, despite having starred in Daddy’s Little Girls), but there’s not a lot of information available on the subject.
When Perry was chosen to replace Elba, Twohy was replaced by Rob Cohen (another director with long-term ties to Vin Diesel). Cohen has been directing sub-par-but-passable action movies since 1993, when he and fellow screenwriters John Raffo and Edward Khmara made up a bunch of stuff and called it Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Dragon was followed by three movies you probably forgot even existed – Dragonheart (about a dragon that talks like Sean Connery, for some reason), Daylight, and The Skulls, which led Cohen to jump-start his first two franchises with The Fast and the Furious (arguably the worst film in the ongoing series) and xXx. More recently, he lost millions of dollars on Stealth and attempted to resurrect Stephen Sommers’ Mummy series with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – a movie so ineptly constructed that it manages to make Maria Bello look inept and a fight between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh boring.
The final product, entitled simply Alex Cross, reportedly has little in common with Patterson’s book and is one of the most oddly tone deaf theatrically released misfires of the year. Make no mistake – this is a bloody terrible movie on just about every measure – but it’s so sincere in its awfulness that it becomes infectiously entertaining. I’ve recently found myself watching painfully boring mediocre action ‘thrillers,’ which makes the laughable qualities of this film a pleasant respite. Despite decades of filmmaking experience behind of and in front of the camera, Alex Cross often comes across as an amateur fan-film with a decent budget. Everyone involved seems to be oblivious to how much their film resembles a satire of cops and robbers genre clichés and that makes the ridiculousness of the situation all the more enjoyable. Cohen’s action direction is expectedly bland, struggling between sloppy, abhorrently shaky, hand-held close-ups and genuinely impressive crane shots. His dialogue sequences range from adequately bland to bafflingly framed. His editing choices do keep the plot moving along, but anytime he tries to get arty and abstract with things, he merely draws unfortunate comparisons to other, better films. All of this said, Cohen’s more or less a non-entity here, which lends more credence to the theory that Perry was given some creative control.
I’m not sure how much influence Perry had over the production, but it’s believable that if he was approached by the producers, he probably had some contract stipulations. This character is also absolutely in keeping with the self-aggrandizing heroes Perry plays in his own film (when he’s not in drag, of course). I haven’t read the books and barely remember Kiss the Girls, so I’m not sure who to blame for these laughably character traits, but Cross is a perfect detective, a capable mentalist and psychiatrist, he has a beautiful wife, he has two kids and a baby on the way, and he lives with his grandmother named Nana Mama (yes, Nana Mama) who he likes to pick up and smother with kisses. This seems like a good time to mention that the supporting black characters also fall within Perry’s stereotype-embracing wheelhouse. When not solving impossible crimes, Cross plays daddy to the criminals and his underlings by lecturing them about their life choices. Perhaps the most egregious Perry-ism is the lack of sex and violence, which this story clearly lends itself to. There’s too much violence, torture, and rape in the text for someone to have looked at the project and immediately though, ‘Yeah, this should work just fine for a family friendly PG-13 rating.’ It’s possible that the producers chose to open the film to the biggest possible audience, but that doesn’t feel right based on Perry’s reputation for strong Christian values.
The film’s dialogue is so jaw-droppingly hackneyed that I struggle to even recall a single line of it – I’m not sure if I’m just mis-remembering a quote from another movie. Characters don’t discuss things or interact; they speak in mottos, like an improv exercise, including awkward pauses as the actors appear to be summoning another hardboiled cliché. I was so swept up in gawking at the humourless use of overdrawn genre tropes that I didn’t notice that the first act and a half were entirely wasted on plot points that don’t matter. I imagine that, in novel form, the espionage that Cross’ foil, a sadistic hired killer named Picasso (Matthew Fox), dabbles in prior to starting his vendetta against Cross serves some kind of narrative purpose, but here it’s all just a means to get us to the last 40 or so minutes where Cross returns the favour and enacts his own vendetta. After vengeance is done, with all the emotional weight of an episode of The A-Team, we’re expected to remember the roughly defined plotline, including seemingly incidental blips as Cross fills in all the details for Sherlock Holmes-inspired coda. It turns out there’s a thematic twist that we were apparently expected to have a chance in Hell of figuring out based on the screenplay’s ‘clues.’
Even without Perry miscasting, Alex Cross would still be notable and ironically enjoyably silly due to Matthew Fox’s performance as the main villain. Fox was cast against type and, in an apparent effort to prove he can play more than the sad Mary Sue on Lost, he went all ‘method’ on the role. It seems he discovered a special workout/diet plan that burns body fat while maximizing vein mass. He looks kind of like a really muscular, sullen-cheeked cancer patient. Picasso also hilariously matches Cross’ cliché overload. He’s introduced driving a cool car, wearing cool sunglasses and a cool suit, and he immediately enters himself in an underground MMA fight, where he breaks a dude’s arm after subduing him (Cohen distorts the image to make sure we know he’s, like, mega-crazy, yo). Later, he tortures a young lady while explaining that he’s ‘fascinated by pain,’ ending the torture by sketching his victim’s death in a faux-cubist style (hence the name ‘Picasso’). He over-annunciates every single word he speaks and, just in case we didn’t get it already, he also has scary tattoos. The rest of the supporting cast is at its best when the actors appear to have confused the material with comedy, especially Jean Reno (who appears to have discovered buffet dining), Edward Burns (who appears to have not read his script), and John C. McGinley (who appears to be speaking sarcastically without any other character noticing).
Reported shot on Super 35, Alex Cross looks pretty great here in 2.35:1, 1080p video. The image fluctuates between a hyper-clean, early ‘90s look (sort of faux-Michael Mann) and grittier mid ‘90s look (sort of faux-David Fincher) that is plenty grainy without sacrificing detail or edge sharpness. The details are especially crisp in close-up, but Cohen and cinematographer Ricardo Della Rosa use a lot of deep focus, especially during wide-shots of the outdoor locations. The finer textures and complex patterns are all tightly separated except some of the swifter pans, which suffer minor ghosting effects. The palette is pretty eclectic while also being distinctly stylized from scene to scene. There’s a lot of contrasting between cool blues and warm reds/oranges during darker inside shots (yep, sometimes it’s just flat out orange & teal), daylight is mostly blue and diffused into harsh whiteness, and any creepy/scary sequence is comparatively de-saturated and darkened. Black levels are rich and whites are clean without blooming. Some of the cooler backgrounds bleed out a bit, but I didn’t notice any major low-level noise or blocking outside of a handful of the darker blends.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack matches the video’s strong showing with plenty of clean, strongly structured noise. The chase scenes feature plenty of effective motion throughout the channels, gunshots are given their proper placement, and basic ambience is natural and generally immersive. The MMA scene features strong, rear channel crowd noise and leads into a hyper-stylized series of abstract punching noises that get a full directional treatment. On the more dynamic end of things are sequences where Picasso quickly dispatches his victims with precision gunshots and miniature bomb blasts that spout from utter silence certainly standout. John Debney’s score is a sloppy mix of symphonic sap and beat-driven, electronic noise. The music is amusingly divided between characters, which means things get loud anytime Matthew Fox appears on-screen. Though ridiculous, the music is quite nicely layered throughout the film, giving the surround channels something to do during the dialogue-heavy montage sequences.
Welhelm Alert: Around the one hour and twenty minute mark, there is an incredibly awkward, way too loud on the track Welhelm scream as a police officer is tossed across the screen following a missile explosion. This one moment is so badly mixed that it’s hard to believe it was done by the same people that mixed the rest of the soundtrack.
The extras begin with director Rob Cohen’s commentary track. Cohen covers his place in the production, claiming it was his idea to hire Perry, which, if true, marks him as more of a driving force in the film’s change throughout its early pre-production (he thinks it was a daring choice, which I suppose it was…). I was hoping for more on the back-story, but am not surprised that Cohen avoids controversy. Otherwise, assuming you can handle the director’s incredibly self-important tone, this is a perfectly average track with a lot of discussion aimed at the film’s visuals and storytelling – which is, of course, sad considering how badly composed this story is (it turns out it does make more sense when the director is describing what’s happening to you). If Cohen is to be believed he is the creative force behind much of the film, or at least an important component in the decision making process. He admits Perry assisted in ‘authenticating’ the African American side of the film, but otherwise takes the lion’s share of credit. Obviously, a Cohen/Perry team track would be preferred, but I suppose this will do for the film’s fans (I’m sure they exist).
Up next is The Psychologist and the Butcher: Adapting and Filming of Alex Cross (14:10, HD), a fluffy behind the scenes featurette that includes interviews with author James Patterson (who is mostly photographed looking contemplatively out a window), producer Steven Bowen, Cohen, and actors Perry, Ed Burns, and Matthew Fox. The disc also includes four deleted scenes (5:10, HD) and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Thank God for the miscasting of Tyler Perry and Matthew Fox, otherwise Alex Cross would’ve been bad and boring. As is, this is an epically stupid time-waster that skates by on its amusing ineptitude. I’m not going to suggest anyone actually go out of their way to see it, but if you find yourself trapped in a room while someone else is watching it, understand that there is entertainment value to be had – you just have to look for it in all the wrong places. Those people that buy this Blu-ray on purpose are in for a sharp and colourful picture, a rich and immersive DTS-HD soundtrack, and a few decent extras, including director Rob Cohen’s commentary and some deleted scenes.
PS: If there’s one Internet article that will make even the most ardent Perry hater check out his films, it’s this one about the craziest plot twists in his seemingly dull cross-dresser melodramas.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 5th February 2013
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 English (Optimized for Late-Night Viewing), Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, The Psyhcologist and the Butcher: Adapting and Filming Alex Cross, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Digital Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Jean Reno
Genre: Action, Drama and Thriller
Length: 101 minutes
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