Bemoan the casting of Tyler Perry to the role of Alex Cross if you must. It is undoubtedly a bad call, especially given the slate of other potential stars who could step into the role. Heck, back in 2001 Morgan Freeman snagged the role in Along Came a Spider. Even as the grizzled veteran, the aging star was still better for this action-y role.
Beyond that, the rest of the casting is equally baffling in the limited cat & mouse thriller. Detroit’s Chief of Police is played by John C. McGinley who does not seem to grasp whether he exists for comedic relief or a serious role amidst situational duress. Edward Burns is Cross’ partner, monotone as if he is trying for his best Paul Rudd. Matthew Fox is a hired assassin, high on muscle and popping veins without much visual threat.
Alex Cross was effectively doomed then no matter the script. These popular James Patterson novels are assaulted on the screen, the dual scripting from writers Marc Moss (Along Came a Spider) and newcomer Kerry Williamson messy. Hidden romance is played on the level of a soap opera, allowances for comedy break character, and the ending? Oh lordy what happened there?
Before that, you’re dealing with an unknown criminal element that hires a not-so-slick, mistake prone assassin to close off certain loopholes. Cross’ implausible detective skills piece together grisly crime scenes in a matter of minutes, which is great when the film sees time to work in the elements of family. Cross is hilariously enamored with his home life, with sun shining into the windows, a mother baking the best food possible, and a wife who is expecting. If every police drama ever has laid the groundwork, the eventuality of the job will cause all of this to crash.
Alex Cross is difficult to pin down. Often it feels kitschy, as if it doesn’t know whether to take this material seriously. Whatever fun the film is having fails to have a trickle down effect to the audience. Director Rob Cohen, for his handful of success stories, has crushed a number of promising projects, this his third in a row (at least) depending on your personal affinity for the glossy Vin Diesel xXx stupidity.
Pair bad casting with a director losing his groove and Alex Cross can only leave behind disgrace. Cross’ efforts to find this killer involve using OnStar with the world’s most helpful (gullible?) representative, not his own trained senses. That does not say much for him as a character. The eventual meeting between killer and law turns into a hideously malformed action sequence, fitted with a camera that won’t stay still, and is obscured by weary focus and interior plumbing. Good luck picking out what is actually happening.
Though Alex Cross may bore an audience to tears, the appalling finish creates a reprehensible final image of Cross himself. Despite standing up and protecting common good, the takedown of the mastermind behind the assassin is performed with vengeance, nothing more. These actions turn Cross into a killer on the same level as the man he just engaged with, only without the mental instability to back his reasoning. That eliminates any sympathy from the potential (if not likely) sequels, and makes Cross nothing more than a dirty cop.
There is a nice process running through Alex Cross that gives it visual stability. The color base is strict and pleasing, with a strong base of flesh tones. Digital coloring never comes across as unnatural, yet adds a spark that raises the film a bit above reality. Density of primaries is key, and with few exceptions, the screen is always lighting up with strong hues.
Contrast is also active, brightening the image with plenty of life and no bleaching of fine detail. Aerials of Detroit look hazy because, well, Detroit (sorry residents). Home interiors have way more light focused in on them then should be natural, keeping them just as perky as the clean exteriors or establishing shots.
The other end of that depth coin are the black levels, and when needed the most, they falter. While going unnoticed for the generous intensity during the day, night brings out the worst in them. If the digital side of this film-based source raised the colors for effect, they completely failed in keeping the density of the image. Blues seep into the darkest elements of the screen, creating a distracting loss of visual punch. Even some edits will wipe from superior blacks to near nothingness.
Consistency is king though, and high-fidelity detail allows this transfer to pass mostly unscathed. Close-ups pour on the clean detail and gloss. Texture is derived from environments (especially Detroit’s decaying Michigan Theater), shots of homes, and more. Rarely does the focus soften enough to eliminate all of the textural qualities of a shot.
The AVC encode will pop up once or twice to handle a grain structure that peer out of the frame here and there. Generally speaking, the compression has a tight grip on the material as a whole. Forgiving those few fluctuations is easy enough, or at least more than the black levels.
Quickly, this DTS-HD mix begins to work. The film opens on a shoot-out in an underground tunnel that sends bullets into an echo before dazzling with their tracking ability. That quality will hold for the entire movie, and that spacious soundstage will repeat as Alex Cross closes within the abandoned theater. Then, it becomes amplified with some substantial surround use to gain atmosphere, the creaky structure groaning as fight carries on. The two additional rears in this 7.1 mix have plenty of work to do.
A couple of explosions will send some activity to the LFE channel, boomy in their effect and powerful in their rumble. It’s great to hear the highs acknowledged too with a sharp piercing sound that initiates some of those blasts. Clarity is essential.
What is oddly lost is dialogue fidelity, and more than once. For a modern film, hearing lines come through as if they were recorded 60-years ago makes the audio sound unfinished. Listen at 43:30 as ambiance from the set seems to take over, and even between lines. This happens again later, and the jarring quality difference cannot be missed.
Without much of a box office pop, extras are slim with Rob Cohen working solo on a commentary, author James Patterson featured prominently in a short making-of (15-minutes), and four deleted scenes.
Note: Screens are limited and time stamps may be incorrect due to heavy DRM by Summit.