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A white cop directly refers to Dr. Alex Cross, a man of color, as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and indirectly relates him to Harry Potter. Both of the aforementioned figures from fantasy literature and film are white. Any mainstream film deserves some kind of credit for freeing characters from racial and ethnic definition, but Rob Cohen’s Alex Cross fails to define its characters at all.
Tyler Perry conveys seriousness and not laughter with his oddly intelligent line deliveries and participation in action sequences. That’s already an accomplishment for the man known for making tonally unsound dramedies and playing a sassy elderly woman named Madea. Perry feels somewhat at home as he kicks some serious tail and ditches the jovial vocal tone for which he’s known – except for when he accidentally dons his Madea voice during several high-stakes moments in the third act. This isn’t a comedic actor proving himself as a dynamic dramatic presence a la Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Jamie Foxx in Ray, but it’s good enough for Cross, which might not be saying much.
But what about Cross himself? Perry’s admittedly decent work suffers because the script plots for him a muddled and discombobulated hero’s quest. Times for revealing character depth and changing attitudes present themselves more than once, but nothing comes of them. It’s time for a few laughs. It’s time for some drama. It’s time for some “high-stakes” action. Oops. There’s no time left to make a character – even a one-note one. But, of course, we have time to set up a romantic dilemma between minor characters played by Edward Burns and Rachel Nichols. Maybe it was for the obligatory sex scene.
Even primary baddie, the crazed serial killer Picasso (Matthew Fox), receives little in the realm of definition. Action-thrillers are known for action sequences and high stakes, not character development, but what’s to be made of a villain who hits only one note — perhaps a half note — on the acting keyboard? Fox goes a bit broad with the performance (who wouldn’t?) but he carries his work a bit too far into hyperbole. Think Heath Ledger’s Joker without depth, subtext, or intrigue. He’s not a good guy, and his actions won’t lead to world peace, but what’s his motive? He’s just crazy, but Cross does a poor job of conveying its villains motives — or lack thereof.
On the bright side, we have the powers that be to thank for the always awesome Cicely Tyson. God knows why she signed on for Cross, but her brief work in the film as Nana Mama, Cross’s grandmother, serves as the only performance unhindered by the script. No, she doesn’t appear out of thin air with Louis Gossett Jr. to give sage advice, but she does steal Cross with maybe 10 minutes of screen time. It’s not that the role gives her much to do, but she’s just that good, wringing honesty and emotional resonance from yet another of the film’s stock roles. Start the ill-fated Oscar campaign, folks.
Perry’s portrayal of the title character in Cross marks the hyphenate’s second performance – and first leading role – in a motion picture he didn’t write or direct. But his lack of involvement in off-camera work fails to make it any better despite the merits of his on-screen efforts. This revival of the James Patterson character once played by Oscar winner Morgan Freeman ends on a happy note as our title character begins a new chapter of his life, but what did the last chapter have to say about anything? The film takes on a weak story with apathy toward its characters and little to no urgency toward its high stakes.