Director has lost the plot


Like most people I like having friends.

Friends are handy things to have. They keep you company, they lend you their stuff and they can help keep you on the straight and narrow.

Of course, like most things in life, friends do occasionally have their downside; like when they borrow your stuff and never get around to returning it or when they tell you things you don't want to hear.

I experienced the latter last week when some friends told me that I've been giving too many movies four-star reviews lately. In my defence, I've seen a few quality films in recent weeks and they all deserved four stars despite all being very different films.

Unfortunately this entirely reasonable explanation didn't stop their cruel observations from getting under my skin so this week when faced with the choice of seeing the acclaimed documentary Looking for Sugar Man or the universally panned serial killer film Alex Cross, I chose the one with the sociopath in it.

Keen followers of popular culture will know this is the third time writer James Patterson's character Alex Cross has been brought to the silver screen. Morgan Freeman played him in both the reasonably thrilling Kiss the Girls and the utterly forgettable Along Came a Spider.

This time the detective and psychologist who specialises in tracking down twisted souls is played by someone named Tyler Perry. I say "someone" because Perry is practically unheard of outside the United States where he has made his name in a series of movies playing a cranky elderly woman named Madea.

He is hugely popular with African American audiences and, according to Forbes magazine, was the highest-paid man in entertainment between May 2010 and 2011 when he made a staggering $160 million.

Alex Cross pits the eponymous shrink/sleuth against a homicidal maniac who calls himself The Butcher of Sligo, played by Matthew Fox. For reasons I still don't really understand The Butcher slaughters rich people. When Cross stops him from taking out a corporate bigwig, the nutjob starts taking a particularly unhealthy interest in Cross' family and friends.

Joining Perry and Fox in the cast are Edward Burns as Cross' best friend and colleague, Jean Reno as one of The Butcher's targets and Rachel Nichols as the third member of Cross' team.

The film has three things going for it: some of the decrepit Detroit locations look awesome, Perry has a great voice (like Morgan Freeman), and you sense that most of the cast are giving it their best shot.

On the flipside, the sadistic serial killer stuff has been done to death (pun intended) and the film is staggeringly cliched. Not only that but thanks to a lazy screenplay that is chock-a-block with "that would never happen" and "they wouldn't do that" moments, the narrative swerves all over the show with parts of the plot falling off along the way. Seriously, at the end of the film I still wasn't sure what all the killing had been about and I didn't know if one of the central characters was dead or alive.

But it's not just the writers' fault. The person who shoulders most of the blame is director Rob Cohen who was either asleep on the set for three-quarters of the film or has become so jaded from making this kind of stuff he just no longer gives a toss.


Mostly bad. ★★ (out of five)

Also screening: The Intouchables (M) A very nice crowd-pleaser from France. ★★★★