Although the idea of the mockbuster has recently taken on heretofore unseen proportions with indie studio The Asylum releasing shit like Snakes on a Train to capitalize on significantly higher-budgeted flicks, it’s an idea that’s practically as old as Hollywood itself. Take any genre or setting that was popular and you’ll find it has lots of scuzzier, cheaper imitators lying in its wake. Bonnie and Clyde spawned an enormous amount of period gangster pieces; Clerks made it possible for semi-talented schlubs around the world to make 90-minute dick joke compilations. This whole thing ended up hitting kind of a snag when superhero movies became popular. First off, they’re based on existing properties that could easily put you in murky legal waters if you ripped ‘em off. Secondly, they’re pretty much all amongst the most expensive movies ever made. Even a team as ambitious in its pursuits as the Asylum crew would be hard-pressed to fake their way around the expansive world-building of Spider-Man, for example. Yet this didn’t stop prolific DTV producer Patrick Durham from making his directorial debut on a dubiously Green Latern-like flick made for approximately 1% of the blockbuster’s (admittedly out-of-control) budget and substituting 2011’s hottest property (Ryan Reynolds) with 1995’s hottest property (Brian Austin Green).
How do you think it worked out?
Cross at least has the decency not to hide the fact that it really wishes it was a real superhero movie as it opens on an animated, comic-book style prologue explaining that ever since there have been wars, there have always been warrior families chosen by the gods to protect Earth from certain destruction at the hands of a magic sword hidden in a pyramid or some shit. Each family gets an amulet, the most powerful of which is the Cross of the Isles. Whoever has it in their possession can harvest the power of whatever the fuck and use it to prevent the evil sword from killing everybody on Earth through ill-defined but portentous-sounding bad juju.
Fast forward to present day Los Angeles. Detective Nitti (Tom Sizemore, as sketchy as ever) is investigating on a series of murders perpetrated by a crew of heavily-armed vigilante dinguses with names like Backfire and Riot. This band of vigilantes are led by Cross (Brian Austin Green), a former badass army guy turned even more badass by the aforementioned amulet, which makes him impervious to bullets and allows him to shoot waves of green energy out of his hands. Cross has decided to use this rather sizeable advantage to wipe out all of the scum in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, an evil dude named Erlik (Michael Clarke Duncan) has his own minions running around Los Angeles killing all of the descendants of the warrior families in order to stick all of the amulets into that magic sword and thus become the most powerful man in Los Angeles, if not Earth.
All of the above information is vomited out by the film in the first fifteen minutes through a highly aggravating series of onscreen captions that essentially explain everything or, more accurately, everyone. Every character, no matter how trivial, is introduced with a nametag and brief description of what they do (NITTI: TOP COP is one of the more sonorous examples). Logic dictates that this would make a complicated film easier to understand, but it wouldn’t be Why Does It Exist without a tiresome, unnecessary gimmick, would it? The captions have the reverse effect of leading you to believe that every single element is of vital importance when it clearly isn’t. In one fell swoop, I begun to understand why every single fucking superhero movie begins with an origin story: because trying to write around it leaves you with so much shorthand exposition the film begins to feel like a long, long, long “Previously on Cross…” segment.
After introducing several dozen more characters including a spiky-haired David Schwimmer lookalike with a dodgy English accent and a hot, kung-fu-fighting babe (named Sunshine, no less; even the regular people in this have dumbass names) that Cross rescues from a couple of flabby, drunken Scotsmen who are somehow able to pull out some Muay Thai moves, we’re introduced to Gunnar (Vinnie Jones), a viking who’s cursed to live forever. (I know this because Gunnar’s caption reads ‘Gunnar – Viking. Cursed to live forever.’) Gunnar is such a stone-cold badass that he forces Erlik to shoot one of his men to prove that he wants to partner with him, prompting Erlik to shoot a card-playing cheater and uttering the immortal line, “You cheat me at fish? You sleep with the fishes.” Oh wait, getting other people to do badass things isn’t very badass at all but that’s okay because by the next time this magical invincible Viking shows up again, you’ll have forgotten he was in this movie in the first place.
As you may have noticed, Cross gathers pretty much every single name actor known to say yes to whatever. It’s as if the producers set up a casting session consisting of a bag of money under a giant net and just rounded them up a day later. Apart from Green (who, let’s face it, needs the work) and Sizemore (who, let’s face it, is to the casting of a film as dandelions are to a lawn), the film also stars Jake Busey, William ‘Johnny Lawrence’ Zabka, Robert Carradine, Samantha Mumba from the ill-fated Time Machine remake and pointless two-second cameos from both Danny Trejo and C. Thomas Howell. Unsurprisingly, everyone is pretty damn terrible. For lack of a better descriptor, the performances are almost uniformly video-game like, recalling the histrionics and blocky movements of a Grand Theft Auto game without the considerable handicap of… you know, not being real fucking people.
It turns out that a bunch of nubile young girls (a plentiful commodity in Los Angeles, it must be said) are carrying the blood of the warrior families and Erlik is picking them off one by one to stick their blood into the sword. I could’ve sworn they needed the amulet in that little opening scroll but, I mean, who am I to question the internal logic of a Brian Austin Green sci-fi actioner? Going on a tip from a shady informant dude that looks like a dumpy Jason Statham, Cross and his team infiltrate a warehouse where they engage in a series of shootouts worthy of the latest 50 Cent vehicle (well, except the one where he has cancer, if you must nitpick) and Cross get his amulet stolen. As you can guess, this is kind of like when Superman got stabbed with that shard of kryptonite in the Superman movie that I seem to be the only person to like. Cross will have to rely on his trusty pals (most of whom are kind of useless, with the exception of Jake Busey’s character who slings these ultra-power orb-bombs around) to retrieve the amulet and save the world from certain doom. Cue half an hour of terrible CGI squibs, mystical mumbo-jumbo about swords and gods and the only film with more testicle-related jokes coming from Jake Busey than Tomcats.
I don’t usually do a lot of research prior to writing a review, often because I review movies where the majority of the information will be reviews by nobodies like me whose opinions will surely taint my opinion of the film. I made the mistake of checking out the Cross website mid-film, where I saw that the filmmakers were very disappointed in the critical reception of the film; it seems no critic has picked up on the fact that the film is a black comedy. Faced with this important piece of information, I had to come to the conclusion that this changes absolutely sweet fuck all about the end product. The only thing that actually strikes me as deliberately comedic (apart from the series of lazy one-liners about balls that Busey throws around and the almost overwhelming amount of cheesy Schwarzenegger one-liners) is a mid-film sequence featuring Carradine as a psychotic doctor with nubile, half-naked chicks tied up in his lab. Carradine delivers a camp performance that would be right at home in a John Waters flick while surrounded by tinkly-piano flashbacks of personal tragedies and stone-cold badasses shooting people in the face to establish dominance. So what you’re telling me is that, instead of giving a terrible performance that’s strangely off with the tone of the rest of the film, he’s the only one who’s in on the joke? That’s still incompetent in my book.
Not everything about Cross is uniformly terrible. It uses its low budget relatively well, avoiding swathing everything in cheap CGI (which is mostly used to make Brian Austin Green… green) and keeping everything well-lit and in focus (which sounds like it would be a given, but I’ve reviewed Ulli Lommell movies on here, remember). Michael Clarke Duncan gives a decent performance in the kind of role that has unfortunately become his bread and butter based mostly on the fact that he looks like Michael Clarke Duncan. The aforementioned scene with Carradine cackling wildly as he jabs bikini-clad babes in the ass with a syringe is so tonally different from the rest of the movie that it automatically becomes charming. It contains the line, “Ow, my balls!” which reminded me of the movie Idiocracy, a movie that is not good but certainly more pleasant to think of than Cross. But make no mistake: Cross is not the delightful genre-bending black comedy satire that it claims to be.
If you changed the amulets to briefcases filled with diamonds or heroin or iPad protoypes and removed Cross’ powers, Cross would be virtually indistinguishable from any number of low-budget, LA-set crime thrillers. For all of its intricate backstory, expansive cast of characters and attempts at creating a myth to rival our most beloved franchises, it’s basically nothing more than derivative, Out in Fifty-type junk. It’s got all the pomp and gravitas of a Thor or X-Men: First Class, yet it spends an inordinate amount of time with its characters having a Mexican standoff in crappy warehouses and parking lots. I watch so many fucking movies that end in warehouses and parking garages for this project that I thought maybe a superhero movie would be different. Maybe that’s the black humour they speak of. Joke’s on me.
So why does it exist?
In a way, it’s kind of respectable that the filmmakers were able to make a superhero film filled with the same arcane backstory, extensive cast and action-packed structure as your typical mid-summer blockbuster with what amounts to about 1% of the usual budget for these things. But it’s a lot like building a skyscraper out of used syringes and goat shit: it’s impressive that you managed to do it, but to what end?