'Alex Cross' (PG-13)

 

Tyler Perry doesn't cut it in his first outing as an action hero.

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By Betsy Sharkey, The Los Angeles Times

Alex Cross, the new action thriller starring Tyler Perry not in drag, makes one thing perfectly clear — no one had better cross Cross. Sure he may be a respected homicide detective and a psychologist to boot, which can make for one cool customer. But he also has a really bad temper, really big guns and really bad dialogue. He will use all of them excessively if pushed.

And pushed he is in this out-of-control roller coaster ride through the very tiny world of Detroit's 1%, a group that has become the target of a serial sniper just as it was about to turn Motor City into a modern high-rise mecca. I swear that city just can't catch a break. Cadillac, however, can — its many models get all of Alex Cross' beauty shots. OnStar's tracking system gets a plot plug too.

The killer is one sick twist named Picasso (Matthew Fox), whose signature is leaving charcoal sketches of the victims at the scene of the crime. Between the cage fighting, the tattoos, the shaved head and the sadomasochistic tics, the actor has never, ever been more lost — six TV seasons on that remote island notwithstanding.

This, of course, is not the first film cut at novelist James Patterson's popular character but a redo of the once hoped for franchise that starred Morgan Freeman. It produced a couple of duds, 1997's Kiss the Girls and 2001's Along Came a Spider.

The new iteration is directed by Rob Cohen, who seems to have misplaced his The Fast and the Furious action mojo, and written by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, who seem to have misplaced their Screenplay 101 manual. The casting is no doubt driven in part by the hope that the money guys can get some of that Tyler Perry box-office magic. Perry may actually pay off; not much else about the movie does.

As the film opens, everything in Alex Cross' life is about to change. He's got the offer of an FBI desk job in D.C. The family, which includes wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo) and two kids, might be expanding. His mother, played with an iron fist by Cicely Tyson, is affectionately called Nana Mama, a name no one pronounces believably. Cross' partner, Det. Thomas Kane (Edward Burns), has been his best friend since elementary school.

Then Picasso comes to town and starts eliminating the super rich and leaving those sketches. When Cross starts putting together the pieces and asking too many questions, Picasso goes postal — and Cross returns in kind.

The killings themselves are exceedingly gruesome. But no sense of dread about who will die next or how awful it will be ever materializes. Either the script or the camera angles give away the next victim every time.

There are bursts of decently executed action — one long and bruising battle in an old Detroit building is kind of cool — but not nearly enough to keep the adrenaline pumping. The emotional pacing is even more problematic.

You'd think with the city elite being picked off in such dastardly fashion everyone would be working 24/7. They aren't. Cross and his wife have their regular date night. Thomas is busy courting one of the other detectives. Even Capt. Brookwell (John C. McGinley) doesn't start yelling at the troops until the very end.

Some of the dialogue is so bad it's like an SNL skit gone south. Then, just as you begin to think that maybe Alex Cross is supposed to be a comedy, something serious, like a funeral, will happen. Or somebody's body parts will be strewn around.

As Cross, Perry swings between sweet emotional moments with his daughter, borderline boredom with most of the cop work and bouts of rage. The best of the Alex Cross mess suggests that as an actor, he has the talent to move beyond the world of Madea should he want to. He just needs to look for much better material.

Cast: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Rachel Nichols, Jean Reno, Edward Burns, Cicely Tyson, Giancarlo Esposito.

Director: Rob Cohen.

Screenwriters: Marc Moss, Kerry Williamson. Based on the novel by James Patterson.

Producers: Bill Block, Steve Bowen, Randall Emmett.

A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, drug use, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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