As I wrote two summers ago, there was a great irony in the idea of Super 8 being sold as the great summer original in a sea of mediocre sequels and reboots. The J.J. Abrams sci-fi drama sold itself as a diamond in the rough only to find itself facing off against one of the strongest mainstream summers in recent memory. So it is the case with Lionsgate's seemingly failed Alex Cross. I've long written about how the inexplicable death of the James Patterson film franchise signaled a sea change in Hollywood. Despite earning $74 million in America on a mere $30 million budget, Along Came A Spider was the second and last of the Morgan Freeman-starring Alex Cross thrillers. That Paramount, which once counted on pulpy, star-driven, adult-skewing (and often R-rated) thrillers as their bread-and-butter, would forsake what seemed to be a profit machine signaled that something was changing. As I've written before, 2001 was a game-changer for mainstream Hollywood in a number of major ways. One of the major wind changes we saw was the slow death of the adult-driven mid-budget genre film in favor of 'all tentpoles-all the time'. As I discussed earlier this year, the last two years has seen a real resurgence in just the kind of film that Kiss the Girls represented. Irony of ironies, when Alex Cross did return, the movie-going world didn't need him anymore.
When the Alex Cross reboot was announced two years ago, first as an Idris Elba project and then as a Tyler Perry vehicle, it seemed to signal a return of the kind of old-school pulp that used to be the industry's prime mainstream picture. But Hollywood was already getting the idea. Over the last two years, especially during much of 2012, we've seen a nearly non-stop parade of mid-to-low budget star-driven genre pictures, the kind that the studios allegedly don't make anymore. We've had The Town, The Lincoln Lawyer, Safe House, Looper, and Argo just to name but-a-few off the top of my head. We've seen such a glut of mainstream adult-skewing fare that the marketplace is arguably cannibalizing each other. Three years ago we would have been thrilled to see something like End of Watch. This year it's just one of many of its ilk fighting to stand out in the crowd. Four years ago something like Seven Psychopaths would have likely flourished as the adult moviegoers's prime choice, yet today it has been completely buried against the mainstream pleasures of Ben Affleck's Argo. Just one reason why cinema is indeed *not* dead is the current overflow of adult content at multiplexes everywhere. Up against some genuinely terrific grown-up movie-going choices, a C-level B-movie like Alex Cross didn't stand a chance, whether it starred Elba or Perry. The James Patterson series has indeed returned, but it's too little, too late.
Of course, perhaps the film could have succeeded even this weekend with different variables. Had the film maintained the R-rated content to go with its R-rated sensibilities, had the producers opted for an actor with less baggage, or had Perry been allowed to write and direct the project (which surely would have produced a far less generic and paint-by-numbers product), or had the stars aligned to deliver a just-plain better film, maybe it would have made a difference. But in a different time, even a mediocre Alex Cross would have felt like a diamond in the rough. But in today's genre-rich movie going environment, mere mediocre existence wasn't enough to justify itself. When the kind of thrills offered by the James Patterson novels are available every week on CBS's Criminal Minds, we don't need a mediocre Alex Cross project. When the multiplexes are filled with old-school pulp fiction that aspires to greatness, we don't need a mediocre Alex Cross project. There may be a place for a James Patterson franchise in today's multiplexes. But in a sea of riches, it has to be much better than what moviegoers got this weekend. In a world filled with Loopers and Argos, Alex Cross just wasn't good enough.