“Alex Cross” is based quite loosely on James Patterson’s novel “Cross,” which introduced the best-selling fiction detective to a wide audience. We have seen the character before, adroitly played by Morgan Freeman; this time, Tyler Perry tries (manfully?) to break out of his comic/drag Madea character and convince us that he is a super sleuth. Like a Patterson beach novel, the movie demands a great deal of the viewer: suspension of disbelief, tolerance for film clichés, and overcoming disappointment at seeing some well-known actors trapped in a mediocre movie. Not, unhappily, intelligence.
The story picks up the Washington, D.C., psychologist/FBI agent in his early days as a Detroit cop. He lives with his wife (played by Carmen Ejogo), his mother, “Nana Mama” (Cicely Tyson), and two kids with a third on the way. Cross and his partner, Tommy Kane (Ed Burns), have known each other since elementary school, and they banter like brothers. Against department protocol, Tommy is involved with another cop, Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols).
At the story’s outset, the three officers chase down a killer through the Detroit sewers and slums. Cut to an abandoned church, now the venue for amateur cage matches, and enter a bad-looking dude (Matthew Fox) who styles himself “The Butcher of Sligo.” He wipes out his opponent, purposely ending his career by breaking his arm. We are to glean from this that he enjoys inflicting pain, as ensuing events richly confirm. (The movie is somewhat liberally rated “PG-13 for violence, torture and a tad of kinky sensuality.)
He begins by doping a beautiful young Chinese woman (played by Stephanie Jacobsen), then cutting off her fingers to get her to reveal a computer password. Next, he infiltrates a skyscraper’s water system (don’t ask) attempting to murder a clean-freak German exec. Taking a day or two off to whack Cross’s and Kane’s womenfolk, he settles in to his apparent main mission: offing an incredibly wealthy French businessman (Jean Reno) who plans to reinvent downtown Detroit as a high-tech center. See what I mean about suspension of disbelief?
Director Rob Cohen, whose previous credits include “Fast and Furious” and “XXX,” is here saddled with a script by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson which is rife with unintentional laugh lines. Worse, Perry demonstrates that, as an action star, he’s no Vin Diesel. His monotonous approach not only makes one long for Freeman, it acts as a foil for the real talent of vets like Tyson, Giancarlo Esposito (badly underused here), and energetic younger actors like Fox. For his part, Cohen can’t even properly film a climactic fight scene. My best friend, an action movie fan, actually dozed off; I would have joined her, but I had to write this review.
“Alex Cross” reminds me of a TV-movie, with slightly higher production values. It will probably make yet more money for Patterson and his fellow producers. As one who grew up in the Cleveland area, I was mildly offended that it was used as the stand-in for Detroit. I haven’t been this shocked since I learned that “Major League” was actually shot in the old Milwaukee County Stadium. Is nothing sacred?