By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We usually see Tyler Perry in a dress. Alex Cross not only gives him a chance to don tie and slacks, but to turn into a bona fide action star.
But is the film too much of an action flick?
Alex Cross is a police-procedural departure for Perry, who inherits the title character from Morgan Freeman in the latest James Patterson novel to get the big-screen treatment.
Patterson’s best-selling crime-thriller novels often feature Cross as the protagonist. And in the two that made it to the big screen (the shaky Kiss the Girls in 1997 and the slightly upgraded prequel, Along Came a Spider, in 2001), it was Freeman who portrayed the Washington DC-based detective/forensic psychologist.
Perry as Cross is a lot more of an action hero than Freeman’s more sedentary Cross was. He is, after all, twenty years younger.
This is not necessarily good news.
What is good news is that Perry turns out to be a solid leading man, with both the charisma and the sensitivity to handle the assignment.
Set in Detroit before Cross moved to Washington, DC and joined the FBI, Alex Cross is an origin story that finds him matching wits with a sadistic ex-military assassin, Michael “Picasso” Sullivan, played by Matthew Fox, who is targeting some of the city’s wealthy and powerful, and taunting Cross with threatening phone calls.
Cross works with colleagues (Edward Burns and Rachel Nichols), but it’s Cross whom Picasso (so-called because of his abstract drawings) has a crazed vendetta against. He seems able to predict every step his pursuers take.
And he intends to bring the havoc he wreaks about as close to Cross as he can get –- which could mean near Cross’s wife, played by Carmen Ejogo.
Despite his phenomenal brand-name success, Perry has always been more gifted as a performer than as a behind-the-scenes artist. But most of his acting has been in crossdressing disguise as the sassy Madea.
His outing here should expand the range of roles he’ll be considered for by a wide margin.
Journeyman director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, Daylight, Dragonheart, XXX, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) has a penchant for action sequences. And it’s obvious that he wants to establish Perry’s Cross as an action hero from the very first scene and up through the pure-action, clumsily choreographed climax.
But what Cohen consequently ignores is the protagonist’s storied powers of intuition and psychological deduction — which is supposedly what this franchise is about.
Consequently, the script by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, based on Patterson’s Cross, although it connects the dots, is limited by its focus on gunplay and fisticuffs.
With the cop-after-a-serial-killer premise being so familiar, so tired, even so stale, it’s a actually a tribute to the film that its production values, careful execution, and generated emotion make the enterprise seem at all fresh.
Mostly, that’s because of Perry’s presence.
So commercially successful as a brand-name writer-producer-director, Perry here gets the chance to appear in a high-profile movie that he didn’t create. And he handles the calibrated transition from in-control detective to out-of-control vengeance seeker quite nicely.
Meanwhile, Fox contributes a decidedly one-note cartoon villain, and the supporting cast mostly tries not to get in the way.
So we’ll solve 2½ stars out of 4 for this pedestrian but sufficiently absorbing serial-killer thriller. For Tyler Perry, Alex Cross provides an effective crossover.