James Patterson titled his 12th Alex Cross crime novel simply "Cross." The filmmakers who adapted it expanded the title to "Alex Cross."
They might as well have gone for broke and called it "Tyler Perry's Madea's Stab at Expanding Her-His Hollywood Marketability as James Patterson's Alex Cross."
Perry's name will draw his fans in. Patterson's name will draw his fans in. There's no trace of Madea in director Rob Cohen's adaptation, yet the spirit of the sassy grandma inevitably hangs over the project for viewers curious to see Perry playing it straight and dramatic.
Alex Cross the man and "Alex Cross" the movie wind up suffering for it. It's perfectly reasonable for Perry to try to broaden his enormous popularity beyond the Madea lineage in his own raucous portraits of family life. It's also perfectly reasonable to say that casting Perry as Cross was a bad idea, though it's not necessarily the worst in a movie built on bad ideas.
Perry has little allure as supposedly brilliant criminal profiler Cross. He looks the part of Patterson's big, athletic hero. And no one expects a Morgan Freeman, who played Cross in "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider." But Perry is low-key bordering on sleepwalker dull, and the standard-issue cop-vs.-serial-killer story presents Cross as more of a dopey psycho-babbler than a guy whose incisive mind cuts right to the heart of the case.
In this scenario, Cross is early on in his career, a star on the Detroit police department along with partner and best pal Thomas Kane (Edward Burns). They're tracking a killer code-named Picasso (Matthew Fox) who's working his way up the food chain with murders and attempted murders of execs at an international conglomerate, with the big boss, Giles Mercier (Jean Reno), clearly the ultimate target.
It's unclear just how the showy crimes against underlings are going to get Picasso closer to his goal, rather than simply alerting authorities to put extra security on Mercier. But such is the hazy thinking of the twisted mind, and such is the hazier thinking of Hollywood hacks who don't care about making sense.
It made enough sense to Patterson, though, a producer on the movie.
Director Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious") and screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson weave in as bland a home-life as imaginable for Cross, with his perfect wife (Carmen Ejogo), their perfect kids and his perfect live-in mom (Cicely Tyson). The filmmakers offer a miserly personal life for Kane, who's feeling his way through a new romance with a fellow detective (Monica Ashe).
As the irascible police chief, John C. McGinley looks permanently constipated and wishing he could be anywhere but here.
Unlike Freeman's R-rated Alex Cross movies, the grisly crimes are only talking points, the images sanitized to a Perry-friendly PG-13 level. Cohen's strong suit usually is action, but fights, chases and gunplay are mostly a jumble of quick cuts. An opening scene in which Cross literally dodges a bullet a second or more after it's fired kind of sums up the action trajectory, which eventually devolves from bad police procedural into a bad "Dirty Harry" copycat.
Fox plays Picasso like a drop-out from the Heath Ledger's Joker school of cackling villainy, repeatedly calling Cross on the phone to toss around dreary taunts.
Cross' profile technique amounts to "I don't have any concrete information about this perp so I'm going to spout vague generalities while furrowing my brow." He blathers on about Picasso as a rogue sociopath, a narcissist out to make someone suffer, maybe his mom or his dad or himself or the whole world.
"Who the hell knows?" Cross says.
Tyler Perry's Alex Cross certainly doesn't. Neither does Tyler Perry.
"Alex Cross," a Summit Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity. Running time: 102 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.