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James Patterson’s Dr. Alex Cross made his cinematic debut in the form of Morgan Freeman in the 1997 thriller Kiss the Girls. Freeman reprised the role in 2001 with Along Came a Spider, and now he hits the silver screen once again played by Tyler Perry in Rob Cohen’s Alex Cross. With this new incarnation turning out to be rather weak, perhaps its time to ask if Dr. Alex Cross works as a film character.
Gary Fleder’s Kiss the Girls presents a compelling dilemma in the story of a man who has kidnapped various women, one of whom is Cross’ niece, and held them hostage. Freeman interprets Cross as an intelligent man who can get into a person’s mind and it gives him a constant sense of presence. This man can get the job done, and his tenacity comes through thanks to the efforts of Freeman.
The Lee Tamahori-helmed sequel Along Came a Spider sees Jezzie Flannigan, played by Monica Potter, joining Dr. Cross as he tracks down the young daughter of a congressperson and her kidnapper. The film lacks the power of its predecessor, but it still keeps you guessing for its entire duration. The tricks at hand, though, join themselves to convention far too often relies on action sequences, the lack of which in Kiss the Girls making it such a strong crime drama.
Cross boasted a nice track record to this point, but now we arrive at this weekend’s Alex Cross. It’s a completely different take on the character, and there’s nothing wrong with thrusting a character or property into a completely new light. That said, the reinterpretation should respect the property, no matter how drastically it’s altered. That’s the problem with Alex Cross: the film pummels the character into cinematic oblivion, ensuring that the only difference between him and every other action hero on the silver screen today is the name and Ph.D. attached to it.
Mentioning Perry as a weakness would be moot because he fits the role just fine. He’s no Freeman, but he works well given the demands of the script in question. Of course, the script demands little of him and of anyone else, as Alex Cross embraces the mold of today’s big, cheesy action flick with a few moments for faux suspense and laughable character drama. There’s no element of surprise or curiosity as we know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen thanks to an annoyingly omniscient look at Matthew Fox’s deranged, scenery-digesting villain.
Also hurting is that Dr. Cross himself lacks gravitas, depth, and personality. The same can be said for other characters in the film, but it’s especially troublesome when the lead character falls short in those areas. Only in one scene does the film even bring into the equation a chance for character development and change, with the film doing away with it almost as soon as it arrives.
I semi-jokingly called for Cicely Tyson’s 10 minutes or so as Cross’s grandmother, Nana Mama, to get an Oscar campaign in my review of Alex Cross, but seriously, Cicely Tyson is awesome. She saves her few scenes in Alex Cross from absolute chaos and churns stock lines and attitudes into a performance that rises not to the occasion but above it. Why can’t we get a tense drama about the emotional uncertainties Nana Mama faces as her grandson tracks down a deranged killer? I know that doesn’t sound like a movie about Dr. Cross, but Alex Cross isn’t a movie about him either.
The question posed earlier might be an unfair one. Of course any character can work in the movies so long as the said character gets the appropriate treatment. Dr. Cross works in Kiss the Girls thanks to the setup and manages just fine in Along Came a Spider, but he flails in Alex Cross.