At least Stan Hywet Hall looks good.
The historic site is among the locations used for the new movie Alex Cross, a thriller inspired by the character in a series of books by James Patterson. Morgan Freeman played Cross in two previous movies, while Tyler Perry has the title role in the new film. Although the movie is set in Detroit, scenes were shot both in Michigan and in Northeast Ohio late in the summer of 2011; there is also a short scene shot in Glendale Cemetery.
But as much as local flavor pleases some moviegoers — and there were murmurs of recognition over different spots during a recent local screening — these are in service of a movie that is not only bad but ugly, especially in its violence against women.
In this film, Cross is a Detroit police detective known for his powers of perception, and especially his ability to determine evildoers’ personalities by studying their crime scenes. He has a good team (including Ed Burns and Rachel Nichols), a loving wife (Carmen Ejogo) and family, and a career that appears to be full of promise; he is weighing a job offer from the FBI.
But Cross is about to have his hands full with an assassin (Matthew Fox) who commits a series of murders, one of them also involving the torture of a woman. (The torture scene is quite nasty, and not the last time we will see graphic violence against a female character.) Called Picasso because of a drawing he leaves at the murder scene, the assassin does not stop with one set of murders, and Cross and associates have to both figure out what Picasso wants and how to stop him. But when they get too close to Picasso, he decides to divert his attention from his goal long enough to punish his pursuers. From there, things can only get more horrible.
And, I should add, ridiculous. As a thriller, Alex Cross does not need to be completely realistic, but it becomes more and more ridiculous in its plotting as it goes along, as well as wallowing in cliched dialogue and scenes. It’s not only that characters act implausibly; it’s that some of their big, public actions seem almost unnoticed by other characters. It’s not only that the storytelling leaves one plot thread loose for a long time; it’s that the thread is tied off with a clumsily placed closing sequence that should have any reasonable observer muttering “Oh, come on.”
At least, this observer did.
The only moderately interesting performance in the film is Fox’s, as he holds back none of the monstrosity in Picasso. But the expected emotional tug of war between Picasso and Cross is a mismatch.
To be sure, Perry is taking a risk here, venturing into the starring role in a movie he did not write or direct, and a kind of movie he is not usually associated with. If it should succeed, it would add significantly to his resume, suggesting that Perry non-fans as well as fans are ready to accept him as an action star. Unfortunately, although Perry is a capable actor in some work, he cannot sell the big dramatic scenes in this film, falling back too often on a hurt expression that lacks the required depth for the moments. Nor is he well served by this script.
The supporting cast for the most part just goes through the motions; Giancarlo Esposito brings some verve to a brief appearance, but it is still brief (and part of one of the crazier bits of plotting here). Alex Cross does try to keep things moving, likely expecting the action to keep the audience from asking too many questions, but even the action comes up short at times; fight scenes looked especially murky. It’s a bad, bad movie.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can reach him at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.