Dr. Alex Cross might not be Mr. Monk, but he knows his stuff.
The Detroit police detective and psychologist prides himself on his ability to scan a crime scene and suss out what really happened. It's a well-practiced gift. And there isn't anyone on the force who's as good at getting inside a bad guy's head as Cross is.
That blessing, though, can sometimes end up feeling like a curse.
Being constantly on call for every instance of bloody mayhem in the city makes Cross' life a hectic one—not to mention pulling him away from the family he loves. And so he's thinking it might be time for a change.
Right now, though, he's on another doozy of a murder case. There's a girl tied and tortured to death in her bed. A house full of armed guards, all dead. And no sign of theft. In fact, the police who arrived before Cross are left scratching their heads. When he gets there, though, things start coming together.
It's a single killer, Cross opines. An ex-military type. A guy who systematically took out the guards with a silenced, small-caliber pistol that he likely hid in his shoe.
You can see the reasoned pattern of his kills, Cross continues. He's a depraved sort who likes inflicting pain. He likely got all the information he needed after snipping off one unfortunate female victim's fingers. But he slowly cut off the rest of her fingers just for the fun of it. And then there's the small charcoal drawing that he left behind—a drawing depicting the victim in the midst of her agony.
Bit by bit, step by step, Cross unearths ever more minute clues, piecing together what this psychopathic "Picasso" might be up to next. For this isn't a random crime, Cross is certain. There's too much focus, too much careful attention to detail. Cross is certain he'll figure it all out. After all, he's a man who takes pride in his work.
But Alex Cross isn't the only one with that kind of work ethic.
Because the killer dubbed Picasso, well, he takes any interference in his work very personally. In fact, when it comes to this guy named Alex Cross, Picasso's about to make things very, very personal.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
There's nothing more personal for Alex Cross than his family. He loves his wife and kids passionately. His aging mother is also a welcome part of that mix. Because of them, Cross is considering taking an offer from the FBI that will hopefully simplify his life by swapping field work for a more predictable, less demanding desk job.
Cross shows similar commitment to a fellow officer and lifelong friend named Tommy. The two work together on the same team and diligently watch each other's backs.
Cross also exhibits quite a bit of compassion, even for some of the criminals he's helped incarcerate. Knowing that a 17-year-old kid took the rap for her crime-boss uncle, for example, Cross visits her in jail and pleads with her to set her life straight. "You can't save everybody, Dr. Cross," the girl tells him. "I'm not trying to save everybody," he replies."Just you."
After Cross' wife gets killed, he comforts his daughter with reminders of the love they had together—and still have with the surviving members of the family. He stresses that "none of us are gonna get through this alone." Late in the film, Cross' mother, Nana Mama, confronts him when she finds out that her son is bent on seeking revenge. "How you gonna look your children in the eye?" she asks.
Cross growls that he wants to watch a killer's soul "ooze out of his body." His mother retorts that Cross' vengeful quest will cause him to lose his own soul.
We see Cross crying in a church filled with candles. A UFC-like bout is set in what looks like an old abandoned church with stained-glass windows. A woman has a statuette of a "god of war" in her bedroom. The Cross family has a picture of Jesus hanging in the kitchen.
The camera briefly catches Tommy and a teammate named Monica in the throes of intercourse. The two are naked (the shot reveals her back and thigh, and Tommy's bare chest) but stay strategically covered by a sheet. In addition, suggestive moaning accompanies the scene.
Picasso's first victim is a woman dressed in skimpy lingerie. The camera watches closely as the two caress each other and as he ties her up (as a willing partner) with her own stockings. The woman compares sex and war, and she's clearly excited by his physical roughness. Later, it's implied in police comments that Picasso had sex with the woman while torturing her.
Picasso exercises naked. The camera pictures his unclothed form from the side and in frontal shot that stops just short of showing anything critical below the waist. Several female competitors wear small bikinis in an mixed martial arts bout. Women in the audience wear formfitting and cleavage-baring outfits.
This gruesome PG-13 flick pushes hard on the boundary of that rating as it focuses on a serial killer who goes to great lengths to sate his depraved cravings. For instance, Picasso cuts off a woman's thumb, then cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch so she won't bleed to death. She's immobilized by a drug, but we see tears of agony trickle from her eyes. We watch the bloody digit plop down into a bowl and later see that the rest of her fingers are already there as well. The police later report that the victim's system likely gave out not from the wounds inflicted, but from shock.
With each cut or gunshot or bomb detonation, it's clear that Picasso revels, almost sexually, in the agony of his victims. We're shown a photograph of a female character we've come to care about, bound with her eyes burned out. A pregnant woman is shot in the chest with a sniper rifle. A dozen or so men are eliminated with gunshots to the chest or head. One is shot in the leg and left to cry out in agony until Picasso has had his fill of the man's pain. Similarly, another man receives a bullet to the chest and is allowed to slowly drag his bleeding body across the carpet, leaving a crimson trail behind him.
Even when it comes to his own pain, Picasso seems to savor every second. After his shoulder is grazed by a bullet, he returns to safety and begins exercising vigorously, leaving the gash open and bleeding. When he's finished, the skin-and-gristle murderer sears the wound shut with a blowtorch.
Disturbingly, Cross himself also resorts to torture, beating a man, and then twisting and breaking his arm, desperate to find Picasso and kill him.
Other smashing, bashing moments include a car crash that results in several people getting injured, with bloodied foreheads and swollen-shut eyes. A prolonged battle between two combatants includes punches to the throat, head slams to walls and a walkway railing, a kick to the crotch, a knife to the chest, a broken wrist and a deadly fall from several stories up. An RPG blast envelopes a group of people, sending vehicles and burning bodies flying in all directions. Another explosion hurls police officers into a hallway, thudding them into walls; one policewoman crashes through a window.
An MMA fighter gets ruthlessly pummeled about the head and shoulders, strangled with a leg lock around his throat and eventually has his arm broken by his opponent, who hyperextends it at the elbow.
Crude or Profane Language
A couple of s-words. God's and Jesus' names are both misused a half-dozen times (with God's getting combined with "d‑‑n" on two occasions). There's a handful of uses each of "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "b‑‑ch."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cross drinks a glass of whiskey at a restaurant. Other patrons have wine and mixed drinks. Two kilos of cocaine are planted on a bad guy. Picasso administers a drug to his victims that immobilizes them while leaving them fully able to feel the painful torture he inflicts.
Other Negative Elements
Besides the bloody and sometimes gruesome torture doled out by the villain, the movie's biggest problem is its protagonist's embrace of vengeance. Cross' grief and anger drive him to break into the police evidence room—knocking out and binding a fellow officer in the process—to steal evidence he can use as a bargaining chip with a criminal. He then goes about beating and torturing another bad guy to get that information.
After that he sets off on a Rambo-like mission that is eventually excused without consequence—if not actually lauded by the moviemakers. The film also vindicates planting incriminating evidence on a villain that will lead to his arrest and eventual death sentence. The song "Only God Can Judge Me" plays during the movie's credits, arguably reinforcing what seems like the film's acceptance of vigilante justice via lyrics such as, "Only God can judge me/Gotta do what I gotta do."
Since his 2002 debut, Tyler Perry has become what you might call a Hollywood mini-mogul: He writes, directs, produces and often acts in his own particular brand of movies, both dramatic and comedic, movies that generally deliver impossible-to-miss moral and spiritual messages. He's famous for offering heaping helpings of melodramatic conflicts, deep-fried philosophical ruminations, unapologetic nods to Jesus and church, and—virtually without exception—happy endings. Even in the crass comedies dominated by his opinionated alter ego Madea there's usually at least a morsel or two of genuine wisdom sandwiched between that cantankerous grandmother's rude 'n' crude ruminations about the way things really are. It's a formula that's won Perry a multitude of fans in his decade-long career.
So what should they expect this time around? Bluntly put, Tyler Perry fans shouldn't expect any of that in Alex Cross.
Perry exchanges Madea's muumuu for the trappings of a high-octane action star this time around. And it's far grittier fare than anything he's done up to this point. Based on James Patterson's crime-buster novels, Alex Cross is about a sadistic lunatic who takes immense pleasure in his victims' writhing pain as he tortures and kills them. Despite the film's PG-13 rating, it's thematically closer to something like the Saw franchise than anything in Tyler Perry's previous credits.
Yes, there's a certain charm to the story's titular hero, Alex Cross. He's a loving, attentive family man and a gifted supersleuth. And those elements undoubtedly invite us to identify with him when things go horrifically, violently awry in his pursuit of Picasso. But, quite frankly, all those positives are quickly forgotten when the movie transitions into "revenge at any cost" mode.
Viewers witness a psychopath snipping fingers with cutting shears and cauterizing wounds with a blowtorch. Then they watch their hero turn violent vigilante himself as he unleashes torturous tactics of his own in pursuit of bloody vengeance.
In the end, it's all pretty predictable (for a torture-actioner) and persistently ugly. I've got a feeling that even Madea, crass as she can be at times, would offer the back of her hand to all that.