The fact that Tyler Perry is no Morgan Freeman is abundantly demonstrated in Rob Cohen’s attempt to resuscitate James Patterson’s police forensic psychologist, whom the older actor played in “Kiss the Girls” (1997) and “Along Came a Spider” (2001). Certainly neither of those pictures was among Freeman’s best, but both were far superior to this dull, formulaic effort, in which Perry, sans Madea makeup, takes on the part of Cross to little effect. The result is an ugly, imbecilic buddy-cop action picture that makes little sense and offers few thrills.
Basically the plot, crafted from one of Patterson’s tomes by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, is just a standard-issue serial-killer tale, leavened with Cross’s astronomical deductive powers, supposedly comparable to those of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. (Actually his exhibitions of this skill border on the absurd.) He’s the leader of a Detroit police investigative squad that also includes his buddy from junior high, Thomas Kane (Edward Burns, doing his usual shtick without distinction) and their distaff partner (Rachel Nichols), with whom Kane is having a secret fling in the hay. Cross, by contrast, is happily married to the lovely Maria (Carmen Ejogo); they, and their two darling kids (with a third on the way), are apparently residing with his imperious Mama (Cicely Tyson, looking shockingly shriveled).
The team is called in by their voluble captain (badly cast John C. McGinley, who’s meant to add comic relief but fails miserably at the task) to look into the brutal torture-murder of a rich society lady, whose three bodyguards are killed along with her. Cross soon ties the slaying to an international conglomerate run by French mogul Giles Mercier (Jean Reno, preening like a peacock), who’s leading a project to literally rebuild Detroit as a major center of global finance, commerce and manufacture.
There’s no question who the killer is—a slinky fellow (Matthew Fox, doing a routine disturbingly similar to one of Guy Pearce’s odder turns) who describes himself as being fascinated by pain and enjoys inflicting it on both others and himself—one of his hobbies is moonlighting as an “extreme” cage fighter just for kicks. (Given his masochistic streak, he’d be a perfect candidate to see the movie.) When his attempt to kill another of Mercier’s minions in the firm’s “impregnable” office tower is foiled by Cross and his team, his hit-list suddenly lengthens.
It doesn’t pay to be a woman in “Alex Cross.” The characters played by both Ejogo and Nichols prove distinctly unlucky as Fox’s “Butcher of Sligo,” as he once calls himself, goes about his increasingly incredible business. But that’s all part of the filmmakers’ desire to bring Perry and Burns into a familiar tough-edged bromancey-partner coupling to track the villain down and discover the motive behind his crime spree, which includes literally blowing up Mercier, along with a nice portion of downtown Detroit, with a missile launched from a passing elevated train. The resolution involves the heroes effectively going rogue in pursuit of justice—and literally bumping into the bad guy by accident in the street to set up a final mano-a-mano showdown that, in terms of blurry camerawork and spastic editing, certainly represents one of the clumsiest, sloppiest fist-fights in recent cinematic history. The coda, bringing the killer’s employer to his rightful end, is positively desperate in tossing out information to end the picture on a satisfying note. It doesn’t work.
But if the action sequences are mediocre—a surprise, since they’re Cohen’s specialty—the more intimate moments provide little relief. Perry’s domestic scenes with Ejogo, and the kids are almost unbelievably sappy and saccharine, and Tyson gets away with a turn that’s simple, old-fashioned showboating. The expository bits dealing with the police force are equally bad, with McGinley’s over-the-top screaming reminiscent of the worst cliches of old TV shows and their hot-tempered captains.
“Alex Cross” is decently made, though Ricardo Della Rosa’s cinematography falls down on the job in some of the action sequences, and John Debney’s music pounds home points with irritating, overloud insistence. It uses the Detroit locations reasonably well (though one wonders what the town fathers must think about spotlighting the dilapidated Michigan theatre in the final reel). In return for tax incentives, city hall apparently demanded that the word “Detroit” be inserted at regular intervals in the screenplay; it certainly occurs often enough.
Maybe if Perry had played Alex as a cross-dresser and donned Madea’s makeup, this movie could have been a hoot. As it is, it’s not even a ho-hum.