While it periodically succeeds in activating our adrenaline glands and taste for exciting foul play (and resolution), things keep going awry and amiss in Alex Cross, and we yearn to figure out why. Based loosely on the series of books by James Patterson, this cop-and-quarry, cat-and-mouse tale of a Detroit police officer (Tyler Perry) and a sociopath killer for hire “with a narrow focus” (Matthew Fox) makes for a tangled plot where twists grow increasingly personal and labyrinthine. Lean, mean, and taking no prisoners, this assassin — named Picasso — delights in creative solutions to problems of executing his work tasks. When the going gets especially personal, involving our hero’s family, strictly legal means yield to a more semi-vigilante fervor.
The director-centric filmgoer within recognizes a certain pattern in the work of Rob Cohen, the man behind the B-movie-like thrill ride The Fast and the Furious. As in that franchise, Cohen works best when dealing with the dynamics of action cinema, of zooming around a city and following the trail of evil deeds unfolding at a nervous pace. But he stumbles in the areas of empathetic human emotions and coaxing good performances from actors of limited chops — the wonderfully wooden Paul Walker in the Fast films and Perry here.
In part, Perry is up against an unfair comparative competition in the role. Unlike Morgan Freeman, who played Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, Perry hasn’t the veracity or killer instinct to give much substance to the character. It also doesn’t help that his cop sidekick, nicely played by Edward Burns, seems to make Perry pale by association.
Quibbles aside, once settled into the sensory roller-coaster ride of Cohen’s action-genre engineering, leaving matters of film aesthetics behind, Alex Cross is at its humble, genre-flicky finest. It’s fast; it’s furious; it’s a knotty tale of evil in need of a hero to bring on the peace. At least until the sequel.