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posted: 10/18/2012 6:00 AM

Tyler Perry takes on 'Alex Cross' in miscast, morally dodgy thriller

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  • Aspiring to become an FBI agent, Detroit detective Dr. Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), left, tortures a source while detective Kane (Edward Burns) observes the techniques in "Alex Cross."

      Aspiring to become an FBI agent, Detroit detective Dr. Alex Cross (Tyler Perry), left, tortures a source while detective Kane (Edward Burns) observes the techniques in "Alex Cross."

  • Video: Alex Cross trailer

 
 

Call this movie a "Cross" unbearable.

Miscast, poorly directed, morally dodgy and emotionally chintzy, "Alex Cross" tries to buff up James Patterson's police detective Alex Cross (played by Morgan Freeman in the serviceable mysteries "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider") with a younger actor (popular filmmaker Tyler Perry) and blurry "Jason Bourne"-style action sequences.

The resulting manic mess -- directed without flair or inspiration by Rob Cohen -- juxtaposes explosive action scenes with vapid emo moments and a story that throws up its metaphorical hands when dealing with the consequences of a man selling out his soul, values and police oath for that least worthy of all motivations: revenge.

It's too bad that Matthew Fox's unnerving, highly physical performance as a scarily sociopathic hired killer (called both "The Butcher" and "Picasso") gets buried under an avalanche of improbabilities and the hero's almost psychic ability to deduce things a split-second before he needs to know them.

Now working at the Detroit Police Department, detective Dr. Cross thinks about joining the FBI when his vivacious wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo) announces she's pregnant with their third child.

Meanwhile, Cross' right-hand detective Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) violates department policy by engaging in a secret affair with attractive fellow detective Monica (Rachel Nichols).

They must put aside their personal concerns to concentrate on their latest case: a quadruple homicide at the posh estate of a sexy woman who picked up a violent, hunky winner of a local mixed martial arts contest.

Apparently, the woman didn't hear the man's name, "The Butcher." He injects her with a solution that renders her immobile, but completely aware of the pain caused by snipping off all 10 of her finely manicured fingers.

"I'm fascinated by pain!" the Butcher says. Hey, no kidding? Really?

The ham-fisted screenplay, by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, never overestimates our ability to comprehend the obvious.

When Tommy finds out the killer knocked off three bodyguards in addition to the fingerless woman, he shouts, "He must be a professional!"

Hey, no kidding? Really?

Cross and his team figure the Butcher must be working his way up to assassinating French international businessman Giles Mercier (Jean Reno) during a trip to Detroit.

At least Cross is sure of one thing: The Butcher is too focused on his target to bother coming after cops.

Oh, oh.

"Alex Cross" is one more in a long, long line of movies employing one of Hollywood's most overused and obvious conventions: a name actor stuck in a seemingly innocuous role who turns out to be the mystery killer/crime kingpin/main conspirator.

Why this continues to be a viable device is the biggest mystery posed by "Alex Cross."

Perry was a curious and ambitious choice to take the Cross role from Freeman, and the successful filmmaker (known as the gun-toting, middle-aged Medea in a series of comedies) has met his acting limitations here.

Perry succeeds in the quiet, intimate moments with Cross' wife and kids, but he fails to muster the basic police authority the role calls for. Then, Cross' transition from noble protector to vengeful killing machine is clearly outside of the actor's comfort zone and dramatic range.

Cohen, whose last directed film was "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," savors all the hard-edge violence that a PG-13 movie can take while letting his characters shrivel up and wilt. (After the grotesque murder of a key character, the other characters never mention him/her for the rest of the movie. I guess the deceased wasn't all that important.)

Cicely Tyson provides the moral voice as Cross' bossy mom, Nana, who suspects her good son is about to soil his soul with evil and poses the question: What will he tell his children when he returns?

Cross tells them nothing.

And "Cross" tells us nothing, either. It remains a joyless, amoral movie about immoral characters. The kind you need a shower to forget.

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