(On Cable TV, October 2013) Here’s a useful spoiler-filled tip for filmmakers: If you’re making a good movie, you can get away with murdering your protagonist’s pregnant wife midway through. If all you’re making is derivative trash, then stay away from those kinds of stunts, because all you’re doing is pissing off the audience. So it is that Alex Cross, which is a routine cop-versus-psycho thriller up to its halfway mark, goes one plot development too far and murders both a sympathetic bystander and all audience sympathy at one stroke. It’s not putting the hero through personal grief; it’s purely exploitative cheap drama, and it’s easy to recognize as such. Before that plot point, Alex Cross’ numerous problems are easy enough to overlook; after that, the film can do nothing right and becomes steadily more risible as it gets dumber and dumber. Director Rob Cohen’s career as a technically-proficient filmmaker hit an apex of sorts in the early naughties with The Fast and the Furious, xXx and Stealth, but his decline since then has been fierce. Here, occasional good moments of direction come at the expense of a dull film leading to a terrible final fight where even the camera shakes and slow-motion seem to have been added in sheer desperation during post-production. The script is the usual genius-cop-versus-psycho-killer shtick we’re see so many times before, albeit with a psycho-killer-for-hire who seems intent on self-destructive decisions despite supposedly being at the top of his profession. Straining to find something nice to say about the finished film, let’s at least recognize that Matthew Fox is physically remarkable -all sinews and muscles- as the antagonist, while Tyler Perry is occasionally effective as the eponymous lead –if nothing else, he also has a significant physical presence, and he fills out the frames. Still, mentioning the other actors who show up only highlight how disappointing Alex Cross actually is: Edward Burns and Jean Reno quickly show up, but have almost nothing to do –Reno’s presence of the script even quickly highlights an overarching conspiracy plot that is frankly uninteresting to revisit after the antagonist makes the fight so personal. Ah well; Alex Cross (sort-of-adapted from a patchwork of novels by thriller-factory James Patterson) isn’t meant to make sense as much as it’s supposed to re-launch a franchise. In this regard, let’s hope that the dismal results keep all potential sequels at bay –we don’t need another series of pure-formula crime thrillers cluttering the screens.
(In theaters, June 2001) Yes! After a diet of pretentious pseudo-profound cinema and ultra-hyped moronic flicks aimed at retarded teens, it’s such a relief to find a honest B-movie that fully acknowledge what it is. If you like cars, you’ll go bonkers over The Fast And The Furious, one of the most enjoyable popcorn film seen so far in 2001. The plot structure is stolen almost beat-for-beat from Point Break, which should allow you to relax and concentrate on the driving scenes. There aren’t quite enough of those, but what’s there on the screen is so much better than recent car-flick predecessors like Gone In Sixty Seconds and Driven that director Rob Cohen can now justifiably park in the space formerly reserved for Dominic Sena and Renny Harlin. The film’s not without problems, but at least they’re so basic that they’re almost added features. The protagonist is supposed to be played by Paul Walker, but don’t worry; bland blond-boy gets each and every one of his scenes stolen by ascending superstar Vin Diesel, whose screen presence is of a rare distinction. Feminists will howl over the retrograde place of women in the film, but even wannabee-sensitive-guys like me will be indulgent and revel in Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez—not to mention the other obligatory car-babes kissing each other. Despite the disappointing lack of racing in the first half, there is a pair of great action sequences by the end, the best involving a botched robbery attempt on a rig with an armed driver. That scene hurts, okay? I still would have loved a better ending, but otherwise, don’t hesitate and rush to The Fast And The Furious if you’re looking for a good, fun B-movie.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2002) There isn’t much to that film, if you look closely; three or four action scenes, conventional plotting, a few hot young actors and that’s it. But once again in B-movie-land, it all depends on the execution. Here, the young actors are really hot (from Walker to Diesel to Brewster to Rodriguez), the direction is unobtrusive enough and the film is infused with a love of speed that manages to make all quibbles insignificant. The ending is still problematic, with all its unresolved plot-lines, but the film holds up very well to another viewing. The DVD includes an amusing director’s commentary, deleted scenes (some good, some less. Unfortunately, the director once refers to an alternate ending that’s not included), a rather good making-of, three rather bad music videos and a bunch of other stuff.