Today in film history, October 19, 2012, Lionsgate/Summit’s “Alex Cross,” starring Tyler Perry, opened in USA theaters, and quickly (maybe not surprisingly) vanished, thanks to lackluster box office results for Perry’s entry into action-hero movie territory – a move that was met with much derision as I recall, when the announcement of his interest was made. Idris Elba was initially to star in the film, but he later exited the project for reasons that were never made public.
Although some assumed that the weakness of the film’s script may have been to blame.
To be frank, at a time when we’ve often discussed movie franchises centered around black characters, whether based on existing properties (like novels), or original scripts, author James Patterson’s Alex Cross series of books (while not exactly the strongest literary material) is still very much worth reviving on the big screen, or maybe even as a TV series, made for a cable network where creatives are typically freer with expression.
You should recall that Morgan Freeman originally assumed the role of Alex Cross twice, in “Kiss the Girls” (1997), and “Along Came a Spider” (2001), both adaptations of Patterson novels in his Alex Cross series, which comprises of at least 20 titles, so there’s plenty of source material to work from.
And while Tyler Perry’s interpretation of the character left many of us quite displeased, Morgan Freeman’s Alex Cross films weren’t that memorable either, although they were certainly better than Perry’s effort. So there’s still very much an opportunity here, I would argue, to give Alex Cross the big screen franchise treatment he “deserves” (in quotes because, again, the source material isn’t great to begin with, but there’s enough there for a creative to mold into something potentially great!). There was talk of a sequel to Tyler Perry’s film, but it never happened; or maybe I should instead say that it hasn’t happened yet. I hope it never does. Instead, a reboot of the franchise would be wiser; and with Idris Elba currently more famous than he’s ever been, and seemingly suddenly in demand, the Alex Cross movie (and potential franchise) that he was all set to star in (before Tyler Perry took over), couldn’t be revived at a better time in his career than the present. That would be my suggestion to Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment.
I’ve read 4 novels in the Alex Cross series (I read them when it was announced that Idris Elba would be starring in a film based on one of the books), and I believe the term “airport novels” is apropos in describing them. Each a relatively fast read, the material is thin – like cotton candy, except maybe not as sweet; the kind of novels you’d sit and read in a matter of hours, toss aside and forget you’d ever read them. It’s like “fast food reading” – for me anyway.
If another Alex Cross film is made, I would of course really want it to be successful, for obvious reasons. But it probably will not be, if the film is an exact adaptation of any of the books, as written.
I realize that, thanks to seminal films like “Silence of the Lambs” (also based on a book), and David Fincher’s “Se7en,” it’s probably tough to tell a wholly original serial killer story nowadays, because films like those have been released aplenty in the last two decades or so, that any new narrative in that sub-genre will automatically be compared to previous similar, superior titles, which puts future projects at an instant disadvantage.
“Cross,” as written, isn’t exactly what I’d call ambitious. It’s derivative, cheesy, and just not very captivating – Morgan Freeman’s “Kiss the Girls” or “Along Came a Spider” are a sample.
So any new adaptation of these novels would have to workshop each script to improve on the material for the screen. The filmed material is meant to be (and needs to be) dark and brooding, minus the cliched characters and, at times, silly dialogue in the novels. The adapted screenplay would need to be far more gut-wrenching, lurid, and horrifying to have an impact, especially if it’s to compete with its contemporaries. Although it can surpass them with its smarts, instead of relying almost solely on blood and gore to shock and awe the audience.
Some of the sub-genre’s standards, some of which are common in Patterson’s “Alex Cross” series:
– The serial killer is male.
– The serial killer had a troubled childhood that helped create the monster he has become today; Maybe an abusive parent.
– He killed the abusive parent.
– His victims are mostly women with type-A personalities, because he likes to subjugate them, to make himself feel superior, and he gets pleasure from seeing them fearful and without control.
– He likes to play games, whether with his victims, or with the man/woman (usually an officer of the law) who is after him.
– He’s sadistic and likes to chop up his victims bodies after having his way with and killing them.
– He has his weapon of choice.
– He’s hard to kill/catch, despite several close-calls, some in which his death/capture should have been certain, but he manages to somehow magically escape… saving him for the final showdown with our hero.
And so on, and so forth.
As for our hero, Dr. Alex Cross – D.C. detective and forensic psychologist – he’s a little too perfect in the novels. There isn’t a scratch on this man. He’s level-headed, always composed, well-educated, well-to-do, incredibly nice, loyal, loves his family very, very much, doesn’t drink, smoke, over-eat; the man seems to have no vices whatsoever. As written by the author, he’s just one hell of guy who, by the way, is great at his job, and seems to be well-liked by everyone who knows him – except his nemesis of course.
And for all those reasons, he’s just not an interesting character; boring actually. I’m not implying that he needs to be a foul-mouthed, egotistical, loose-canon like John McClane. But he needs some blemishes to make him more appealing and memorable for the film’s audience. He needs some range.
The villains in the novels are typically more captivating (as cliched as they often are), and if the script adaptation follows the novels literally, Idris (should he star in a reboot of the franchise) may find himself in danger of being upstaged by whoever plays Mike “The Butcher” Sullivan, for example, in the “Cross” novel – the 12th book in the series, which the Tyler Perry film was partly based on.
Attempts at tension buildup are routinely nullified by predictability. There are just enough twists and turns to keep the average viewer mostly entertained – but just barely. That would also obviously have to be fixed for any future film adaptations.
I could say the same thing for both previous Morgan Freeman “Cross” films, even though they did fairly well at the box office, with “Kiss the Girls” making about $60 million (domestic), and “Along Came a Spider” earning $74 million (also domestic). Not bad at all (unadjusted for inflation), despite poor reviews from the critics on both. Although, I’d argue that both films wouldn’t do nearly as well as they did back then, if released today; which the Tyler Perry film essentially did – remade Freeman’s relatively tame and all-too obvious films in the 21st century, with audiences already accustomed to torture porn franchises in “Saw” and “Hostel,” as well as violent and sex-filled hit TV series like “Game of Thrones,” and stunt- and special effects heavy actioners like the “Fast and Furious” films, the Daniel Craig era of a grittier, edgier James Bond, and more.
Not that any Alex Cross films made in the future need to match the violence, sex, stunts, and special effects of those projects, but it will need to be aware of them, as times and audience tastes and expectations continue to change (for better or worse, depending on your POV).
The material will need some punch! If the intent is to create an “Alex Cross” franchise for Idris Elba (hypothetically), it’s crucial that the filmmakers, to borrow a baseball reference, come out swinging, and swinging hard, in order to make an impression on the audience, so that they’ll want to return for more, when the next chapter is adapted for the screen.
Below, watch a trailer for Tyler Perry’s “Alex Cross” movie: