‘Alex Cross:’ Tyler Perry’s Serial Killer Movie Feels Like an Attack on Audiences (MOVIE REVIEW)

It was an unenviable task for Tyler Perry to follow no less than Morgan Freeman with his portrayal of Alex Cross, the title character in the latest big-screen interpretation of novelist James Patterson’s iconic FBI agent.

But with more than a decade between the last Cross film, Along Came a Spider, and Rob Cohen’s clumsy new installment, Perry should only endure comparisons between this and his performances in his own highly-successful if often artistically-dubious Madea movies, in which he hams it up as a comically volatile matriarch.

And unfortunately, he doesn’t fare well even in that weighted competition: bereft of the comfort of his own writing, Perry fails to breathe new life into the character, even as co-star Matthew Fox’s scenery chewing eviscerates whatever traces of a script existed for this ham-fisted and mindless thriller.

Where do audiences find Alex Cross at the beginning of the film?

Perhaps obviously younger than Freeman’s version of the character, Perry plays Cross during his stint as a Washington, D.C. homicide detective, where his partners Tommy (Ed Burns) and Monica (Rachel Nichols) are quietly stumbling their way through the early stages of a romantic relationship.

Happily married himself with a baby on the way, Cross still has plenty of time for his wife Maria (Carmen Ejogo), even when his days are filled with the pursuit – often literally – of violent criminals. But when he and his team come across a gruesome murder scene adorned with the artwork of a sociopath they dub Picasso (Fox), Cross finds himself in the killer’s crosshairs.

Sadly, the cat-and-mouse game that emerges between Cross and Picasso is of the variety that only the movies can conceive, which means it comes down to terse phone conversations between the two in which the hero succinctly diagnoses the villain’s psychological neuroses as the villain taunts the hero, threatens his loved ones, and performs some kind of “crazy” self-abuse to himself – simultaneously. As written by Marc Moss (whose previous credit was Along Came a Spider), both characters barely flirt with two dimensions, and the shy away from the richer complexities of their respective obsessions.

That said, Cohen does such a poor job in rendering the visual details of either of their accomplishments, or the world around them, that it’s impossible to develop any sense of compassion or understanding of the characters, much less effective dramatic momentum. Cross’ increasing obsession with finding Picasso offers the promise of a Searchers-style moral quandary – when does the pursuit of justice turn into self-righteous revenge? – and then abandons it in favor of a shockingly conventional, falsely upbeat and shamelessly sequel-minded resolution.

But even just the straightforward depiction of action is so poorly handled – including an incomprehensible fight scene that looks like it was shot by an epileptic – that it’s impossible to be swept along by the visceral thrill of the hunt. If cinematically speaking his films since 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story have seemed like the increasingly desperate attempts for an aging, unwed uncle to relate to his adolescent nieces and nephews, Alex Cross is the cocaine before the intervention – the most misguided effort yet for Cohen to seem hip or relevant in an industry he no longer seems to understand.

Still, there is something promising about this franchise – both in terms of the title character’s potential, and Tyler Perry’s future as a performer in non-Tyler Perry-oriented projects. But nothing in this film properly utilizes or explores either of those assets, and in fact feels even more mindless and derivative than Freeman’s films, not to mention more poorly acted.

Ultimately, Alex Cross is just a bad movie, plain and simple, but the real tragedy would be if it became a bad franchise. That doesn’t mean that Perry and co. shouldn’t make another film; notwithstanding its commercial potential, there are some genuinely interesting ideas to examine in Patterson’s creation. But if audiences are expected to want to watch Cross hunt serial killers for years to come, the experience shouldn’t feel like they themselves are the true victims.

Watch Celebuzz’ exclusive video interview with stars Ed Burns and Rachel Nichols below.

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