Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Alex Cross (Part 1)

Don't Cross Alex Cross... or he'll make you watch this movie!”

You may not know this, I certainly didn't, but Alex Cross is the latest in the Hollywood craze of rebooting older franchises with a hip and younger cast. The franchise in question is the Alex Cross series, consisting of the movies Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider, which starred Morgan Freeman as the eponymous police detective/psychologist. Despite my love for Freeman, I've never seen either because Ashley Judd was in one of them and A GHOUL CAN'T STAND ASHLEY JUDD.

I've never read any of the books the series is based on either, so I have no idea how loyal they are but I'm going to go out on a crazy limb and guess “not very”. I know this movie is loosely based on the twelfth book of the series, because if there's one thing Hollywood is awesome at it's adapting books out of order.

Announced in 2010, Alex Cross was originally going to be a VERY different movie. It was going to star the ridiculously awesome Idris Elba, who took the role based off the “phenomenal” script it had. It was going to be directed by David Twohy, who is pretty hit (Pitch Black) or miss (everything else Riddick) but is at the least a competent director.

I have no idea what happened next, but the script fell into the hands of a different company who bulldozed everything and had it rewritten by the guy who worked on the previous Cross movies. Check out this disturbing quote by the CEO of the studio that released Alex Cross:

When we came on, we looked at it freshly, and just built it from the bottom up. Sure, Idris is a great actor; Tyler Perry is a phenomenon. Tyler Perry is one of the most significant entertainers in all of media. He is a huge cross-media talent and presence, and he’s a terrific actor whose range is going to be shown here. You’re going to see Tyler Perry like you haven’t seen him. He’s 6’5″, he is a linebacker. He is an awesome physical presence and is just going to tear it apart here. It’s an intense, dramatic role.

This is going to be the new Tyler Perry franchise, a worldwide one. That’s the other thing: Tyler Perry is going to take this to the worldwide audience. It’s just a very different, much bigger opportunity. We went to him. If you can get Tyler Perry or Will Smith, you try.”

Tyler Perry. A man whose claim to fame is making about 400 straight-to-video movies where he dresses like an old grandmother. This is Hollywood in the 2000s. Why bother putting the work in to make a good and memorable movie when you can instead have a mindless sequel-bait franchise that exists only to set up the next movie? To illustrate this point, they brought in director Rob Cohen to helm this film. Not only does Cohen have one of the biggest box office bombs in history under his belt (Stealth), he's also the man who started the Shakespearean the Fast and the Furious franchise.

So is casting Tyler Perry as an action star an inspired decision or if this going to turn out to be a trainwreck of Madea-sized proportions? Grab your trusty sawed off shotgun and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Alex Cross!

The movie sets the tone for what kind of film it's going to be IMMEDIATELY, as we get a totally pointless scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Detective Doctor Alex Cross- hold on. Detective Doctor? Is that really a thing? It sounds so silly, like the time Peter was an astronaut-cowboy-millionaire on Family Guy.

Detective Doctor Alex Cross (played by Tyler Perry), Regular Detective Tommy Kane (played by Edward Burns), and Other Regular Detective Monica “Moni”- hold on again. Moni? Ugh, this has barely started and the stupidity levels are already dangerously high. Those two and Other Regular Detective Monica “Moni” Ashe chase and capture some killer in a scene meant to establish what a strong bond the three friends have but falls rather flat. Get used to that.

Couple things to point out here: Perry is beyond monotone in this and has no energy WHATSOEVER. Even when he's supposed to be animated or funny, he's just dead, which I find very bizarre for a man who actually has a huge range. I'm not saying Perry is a fantastic actor, but he's way better than this movie would make you believe so we have Cohen to blame for not trying to get a performance of any kind of out of him. After all, that'd distract from all the “action”.

Second, Burns must have been battling a killer case of strep throat while filming because he sounds worse than the pilot from the Phantom Menace.  So with this infinitely cliché opening over, we go to another infinitely cliché one as Cross visits a prison to play chess with an inmate. His opponent is a very young woman with the strange nickname “Pop Pop”, who was convicting for fatally shooting two people. Alex suggests that her crime lord uncle actually committed the murders and she is just taking the fall for him as he'd get life whereas she'll be out eventually. Pop Pop dismisses this, so we all know it's instantly true.

We cut to Alex returning to his home in the only nice area of Detroit where he lives with his wife Maria, his two children Janelle and I Don't Get A Name Jr., and his mother Nana Mama. Nana Mama? What is it with names in this movie? We get introduced to all of them (except for I Don't Get A Name Jr.) through some Lightning Fast Expository dialogue, as we also learn Alex has a photographic memory and is damn near a Jedi with how he knows things. But he didn't know Maria was pregnant, which she surprises him with. His reaction is about on par with a person who just found a penny on the sidewalk.

The movie takes a break for a commercial for the new Cadillac CTS-V- wait, I thought I was watching this on blu-ray? No I guess not, I must be watching it on network TV. Hold on! That's Matthew Fox, whom I know for a FACT is in this movie. Fox, playing the role of I Don't Get A Name Sr., is shooting a Cadillac commercial apparently when he notices they're filming an Alex Cross reboot movie and decides to butt in because Lost was over two years ago and he hasn't done JACK since then. HAW HAW! Get it, cos that was his character on- ah, forget it.

Fox is an assassin named Picasso but they NEVER name him in the movie so I'm going to keep calling him Fox. He gets a call from his employer who wires three million dollars into his bank account as payment for something. Fox enters an old church that has been converted into an underground cage fighting arena. He buys his way into the match, using “the Butcher of Sligo” as his ring name. He keeps glancing at a woman sitting ringside who looks very important as she's surrounded by an entourage.

The match begins, and joy of joys, it's shot in SUPER UP CLOSE So It's Impossible To Tell What's Going On With Liberal Dashes Of Shaky Cam Vision! We haven't had that in awhile, have we? I forgot how much I completely didn't miss it. Fox goes on to beat the holy hell out of his opponent, easily winning the fight but goes on to break the guy's arm because that's how he rolls. He looks again at the woman, who slightly smiles at him. Mindless and sadistic violence must REALLY turn her on!

Matthew Fox obsessively worked out almost two hours a day for nearly six months while rigidly adhering to a strict nutritional program, losing forty pounds and turning his body into an ultra chiseled physique that makes Superman look like a fat slob.  It also caved his face in to the point where even meth heads would be like “Damn dude, get some help!” I find it difficult to buy that a woman who is apparently a millionaire and lives in a mansion would be attracted to him, but the very next scene is her taking Fox home so alrighty.

Her house is full of security guards, who go as far as to frisk Fox upon entering. Unfortunately they don't hang out in the bedroom as their boss and Fox go to have sex, because Fox injects her with some kind of drug that paralyzes her. He takes out a gun hidden in the sole of his shoe as we cut away with him looking ominously around the room like a freaked out junkie.  Alex is awoken that a night by a call from his police chief, played by Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs. Yeah, I know he has a real name and he's been in a billion other movies, but he doesn't even ATTEMPT to play a different character so he's Dr. Cox.

He tells Alex there's been four murders and that he's putting him on the case. We then join the rest of Alex's team in Moni's apartment, where she just happens to be having sex with Tommy. They're interrupted by Alex calling Tommy about the murders, Tommy lying about his location because his seeing Moni is supposed to be a secret even though he's positive Alex knows about it because he's a Jedi. They babble on forever about their relationship and we officially have had more pointless scenes than scenes vital to the plot so far.

Alex picks Tommy up, chastising him about sleeping with Moni because... God, who cares? This movie is only twenty minutes in and already this is feeling like a Worst Movie of the Decade candidate. How can you make twenty minutes of watching a movie feel so excruciatingly painful? Let's just pray Rob Cohen never falls into enemy hands or we are SCREWED.

Alex tells Tommy one of them will have to leave the unit because his and Moni's relationship is disruptive to it. Tommy volunteers to go but then Alex tells him HE'S leaving because he's going to take a job with the FBI. So what was the damn point of saying Tommy or Moni were going to have to leave then? Bah!  They arrive at the mansion, where Tommy concludes the murders were so well carried out they had to be the work of a skilled team. Alex disagrees, saying it was the work of only one man. Tommy argues this despite earlier saying how Alex is ALWAYS right and knows EVERYTHING. Is this going to be the movie's thing, contradicting everything a few scenes later?

Alex uses his powers of super crime solving to reconstruct the crime scene, as it segues to a flashback of Fox and the woman. Fox tells her he's going to ask her a question and she has nine chance to get it right. He cuts off her thumb and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch, because THAT'S what this movie needed was torture porn. He asks her what the password to her laptop is.

We return to the present as Tommy holds up a bowl with all of her fingers in it, which is shockingly gritty for a PG-13 movie. Tommy also finds a drawing Fox left behind while Alex finds a safe hidden in the woman's wall. They find it's protected by a thumbprint reader, and yeah they're going to do this. They “comically” argue over who is going to do the deed, because that's what this movie needs: more uneven tone! Alex loses, taking her thumb and using it to open the safe. Inside he finds a backup hard drive of her laptop.

They take it back to the lab, where the lab geeks find a series of emails between the woman and two major business executives named Giles Mercier and Erich Nunemacher. Studying the drawing Tommy found, Alex finds the letters “E” and “N” on it, so they rush off to see Erich.

They go to his office to see him, but the building security won't let them in without a warrant. What?! Does this movie know what a warrant even is? We might be in for the longest ride ever here. Security changes their tune when the giant fountain in the lobby area quits working, which alerts them to the fact something is wrong so they let the detectives in. We see Fox climbing up the building inside a water piper that luckily is large enough to fit a grown man. In addition to his brutal workout regiment, Fox also did all of his own stunts for this movie. It doesn't make this scene any less stupid, however.

He cuts his way through the pipe and sneaks onto the floor containing Erich's office. He starts picking off the security guards one by one, the detectives hearing the gunshots along with Erich. He activates a panic room door that seals him and Tommy inside, leaving Alex and Moni trapped outside with the crazy assassin. Tommy demands he open the door but Erich tells him it can only be opened from the outside. Why?! So what happens if everyone outside gets killed, you're just trapped in there til you starve to death? Great planning guys!

Alex manages to get the drop on Fox, pointing his shotgun at him. I actually had to freeze frame what happens next because it's edited so horribly and is goes by WAY too fast to see in real time. Fox places one foot on top of the other, pushing a button on the top of his boot. This causes a concussive bomb to fly off his belt that explodes, allowing him to escape. As the bomb explodes, the film THEN cuts to slow motion instead of earlier when it would have actually made sense and been effective. Rob Cohen!

Tommy hears the explosion and puts his gun to Erich's head, demanding he open the door or he'll pull the trigger. Erich... opens the door?  Why is he being such an asshole to the people here to SAVE HIS LIFE? The movie is doing it wrong when I'm openly rooting for the batshit crazy assassin who just cut all the fingers of a defenseless woman off. Tommy spots Fox and shoots at him, but only hits him in the arm. Fox again escapes with another concussive bomb, fleeing the building.

Fox goes to his place, where we get a poorly cut montage of crazy. He yells at an article about the detectives he has hanging on his wall, punching it. Now here's what I don't get: why would he have that?  Did he know they were the ones who were going to be put on his case so he researched all of them? How did he know they were going to be the ones put on his case? This is Detroit after all, it has to have like a million homicide detectives. This is all just nitpicking but this all bugged me. Fox also does pullups, because that's what crazy people do in these kind of movies.

Back at the police station, we learn Erich is now on lockdown at Mercier's house. We get a really sloppy rundown of things that basically amounts to the woman who got killed was an executive officer for Mercier or something, the film did NOT give a damn trying to make any of this clear. Alex believes Fox is working up way up the chain, with Mercier the final target.

Dr. Cox arrives to talk to them in a VERY weird scene where he starts off praising them for almost getting Fox, but then midway through goes bipolar and starts berating them for NOT getting Fox. Wow, we've upgraded to contradicting scenes midway through them, that takes skill! The detectives go to meet with Mercier, first meeting his assistant Paramita who is more tooth than woman. Seriously, she's lucky she hasn't got shot by poachers for that much ivory.

Paramita goes on to give a giggly performance that one could call the “worst ever”, but I'm going to instead say “slept with the right executive to get cast”. Or maybe not, after she leaves to get her boss Tommy explains she's “coked out to the gills”. Nice try movie, you're not fooling me.

Erich shows up next and is very nice this time, especially to Moni. He tells her how flattering it was to be saved by such a beautiful woman, to which she says with a line like that she should have let him die. She quickly adds that she was just kidding. HAW HAW! Oh, how hilarious. My side. FINALLY Mercier shows up, played by some guy that kind of looks like Jean Reno if he was the star of Supersize Me.

Ohh no, wait just a minute. That IS Jean Reno?!  NO WAY!  Leon, what happened?!  Did you finally catch Godzilla and eat him?  Anyway, Mercier goes out of his way to talk about this gigantic gold pimp ring he's wearing because NO WAY will this end up being important later. Subtle Rob Cohen, real subtle.  Mercier goes on to tell Alex about his business, how they plan to rebuild Detroit into a utopia or whatever but it's really more important to foreshadow Mercier is likely the bad guy behind everything because every time there's a “turn a hellhole into a paradise” plot the benevolent mastermind always turns out to be a bad guy.

Seriously though, are we SURE this is Jean Reno? As in THE Jean Reno? He is acting so horribly with these terribly long pauses between words like he's doing a Captain James T. Kirk impersonation or something. One could make many drinking games out of this movie, one I would suggest is take a shot every time he says “Detective... Doctor... Cross...”.

Reno prattles on forever but has no useful information for Alex. In fact, he says the only reason he agreed to meet with Alex was to determine if he was capable of catching the killer. What does that even mean?! Reno said he knew nothing about the killer, so how would he know what kind of man would be able to stop him? What if he determined Alex WASN'T up to the job, would he call up the mayor and order a different set of cops? I really get the impression this script originally had nothing to do with the police and they just clumsily shoehorned this stuff in when they decided to adapt it to be an Alex Cross story.

Later we see Moni entering her apartment, where Fox just happens to be waiting for her. Uh oh. We cut to Alex and Maria having a night out where he tells her about the FBI job, which she doesn't like because she doesn't want to move to Washington D.C. Wow, Detroit to Washington? Talk about out of the frying pan and into the other frying pan.

Maria says they'll figure it out though, and goes to toast her husband. He tells her it's bad luck to toast with water (and HUGE points to the movie here for remembering Maria is pregnant, I seriously expected her to be tossing back whiskey), but she dismisses that as superstitious nonsense and toasts anyway. Pregnant with a third child and purposely ignoring a warning about bad luck, is there anything else the film can do to telegraph her death short of hanging a “I'm Going To Be Murdered By Matthew Fox” sign around her neck?

Alex gets a call from Moni's phone, Fox on the other end. He sends Alex a picture of a very tortured and dead Moni in her bath tub. Fox tells Alex this is his only chance to psychoanalyze him and that he wants the detective to ask him some questions. They talk back and forth as we see Fox is calling from a building across the street while setting up a sniper rifle. Alex somehow manages to piss off Fox even though none of his questions should have done that, but Fox is TEH CRAZY so whatever. Fox says how pretty Maria looks and Alex starts running towards her but is too late as Fox shoots her. She's not quite dead though so we can get the “dying in a loved one's arms” scene, because this movie hasn't had enough cliches already.

Alex asks someone to call 911 with all the enthusiasm of a guy ordering a pizza over the phone. And not even a good pizza, but one from like Pizza Hut. But it's all too late and she dies, with Fox watching the whole thing through his scope. Why doesn't he just shoot Alex right now? His job isn't to kill the detectives but to kill Mercier, and killing Alex would make his job all the easier. But no, he's one of the assassins whose arrogance will prove to be his undoing because we've NEVER seen that before.

We join the film at Maria's funeral, as Fox catches from his Cadillac parked across the street. He's drawing a picture of Alex because that's WAY more important than going to kill Mercier now that he knows the entire police force is at the funeral rather than protecting the business man.

Later at Maria's wake, Tommy gets a call from the lab a paralysis drug was found in Moni that matched the one in the fingerless woman. Oh yeah, Moni died too huh? I'd totally forgotten about that, and so did the movie! The drug only has a “24 hour half life” because plot convenience, which leads Alex to believe Fox is buying it locally so they can start tracking him through that. Nana Mama tells Alex that Janelle has gone up to her room crying.  I'll talk about this scene in greater length at the end of the review, but the short story is Alex tries to comfort his daughter by telling her that her mother's love for her will never go away.

Alex gets another call from Fox, who blames Maria's death on Alex. He says he was going to shoot him originally like he SHOULD HAVE, but Alex pissed him off with his psychobabble so he wanted to make him suffer. Um... you did ASK him to use psychobabble, do you remember that? Does this movie have Alzheimer's? That's really the only thing that would make sense here besides the writers being COMPLETE HACKS. Fox taunts him by saying he'll go to his grave with the knowledge that if he'd kept his mouth shut his wife would be alive. Fox does this scene looking right at the camera and talking to US. Get to used to Rob Cohen throwing as many different camera techniques as possible at us, because consistent look for a movie? What's that?

Alex goes down to his basement and arms up with enough weapons to take down the Matrix. Nana Mama tries to talk him out of going on a Revenge Rampage because of the cost it'll have on his soul, but this is SO not that kind of movie so he ignores her and leaves. He has a police escort take her and his kids to safety, not even bothering to say goodbye to them because fuck 'em, there's people to be a shootin'!