Two-thirds of the way through Rob Cohen's thriller Alex Cross, I wrote in my notebook "Why?" The question mark was one of many piling up in this painfully thin story of a cop chasing a psycho killer who is also chasing him.
As the film unspooled, the specific plot point or character motivation I'd been perplexed by no longer mattered. Let that plaintive "Why?" stand for the entire film: Why are these super-smart-cop-vs.-super-smart-nutter movies still being made, long after the genre has been played out? And why is this one so unbearably lame, committing every sin: stilted dialogue, amateurish acting, stock characters, cheesy score and poorly filmed action? I haven't read the James Patterson thrillers from which this film is adapted, but the storyline here is barely more than a checklist of cop-vs.-villain contrivances.
Tyler Perry — working here as a man — unconvincingly plays Dr. Alex Cross, a Detroit police detective; Ed Burns, doling out his usual hyped-up gruff self, is his partner. They chase a fiendish killer (Matthew Fox) all over Detroit, after Cross instantly intuits that this highly skilled lunatic is targeting foreign business interests.
There's no question that our killer is unhinged. He exhibits every sign of crazy-guy-in-a-movie: He's dangerously underweight and still works out; his eyes bug out and he cricks his neck a lot; he lives alone in a shack by the docks; he talks to the newspaper clippings on his wall; when he gets ready to kill, weird music plays and the screen goes fuzzy; and at kill scenes, he makes creepy charcoal drawings.
There's also his bizarre introduction. Our unnamed killer takes a hit order over the phone and watches millions move into a bank account. He then heads into a mixed-martial arts battle — held in an abandoned building but attended by well-coiffed, exotic women — and bribes his way into a match, demanding to be called "The Butcher of Sligo."
Juggling the crazy leaps and plot holes of the still deeply predictable Alex Cross just made me dispirited. As you'd expect, some more people get killed, Cross is forced to go rogue, and the killer just get crazier. There's the "thrilling conclusion": a mano-a-mano confrontation in the Michigan Building, a once-grand theater now used as a parking garage. That's a nice metaphor for this film: Never mind creating novel entertainment; just stick the pre-fab bits in their assigned slots and call it a day.