In “Alex Cross,” Tyler Perry is called upon to: show devastating grief, show incendiary fury, make threats, throw punches, and take over a part played twice on screen by Morgan Freeman. He is not up to any of those things. Perry is a powerhouse as a writer/director/impressario and I am a fan of his unique blend of high melodrama, low humor, and true-hearted faith in God and family. But here, in a prequel to the gritty detective films “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls,” based on the best-selling thriller series by James Patterson, Tyler is not a good fit. It opens with Tyler as Cross in run-with-a-gun mode, chasing after a bad guy, and then we see him bantering with his long-time best friend and partner (Edward Burns) and with his gorgeous wife (Carmen Ejogo). There isn’t a persuasively authentic moment in any of that. Indeed, the 6’5″ Perry’s most believable performance is when his character has to reach something from a high shelf. That feels real.
Cross is supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes-style hyper-observant detective with a degree in psychology who is also a devoted family man with a cute-cranky mother (Cecily Tyson) who is also gangbusters in chasing, shooting, and beating up bad guys, not to mention some vigilante-style rough justice. He is always right. How do we know? His best friend/partner says, “Just once I would like it if you got something wrong because this is really getting annoying.”
And the bad guy here (an unrecognizably strung-out Matthew Fox) is also something of a super-villain who has mastered every kind of weapon and technology and has an evil genius command center with marked-up maps and mechanicals pinned to the wall (how retro) and a champion mixed martial arts combatant and specialist in torture and charcoal drawings, who leaves meticulously detailed clues that are only revealed by an Al Jaffee-style Mad fold-in.
The story begins with the murder of a gorgeous and very wealthy woman with a kinky side. She explains a statue of the god of war in her bedroom: “War is a passionate undertaking of strategy and skill just like sex. So it belongs beside the bed.” She is butchered and her three bodyguards are shot and burned. That leads to a botched attempt on one of her colleagues, an arrogant German guy who does something with money that is so important he has the kind of super-security they usually reserve for places where there is actual money and not just computers people use to move it around, except in movies where we have to show how smart the villain is by having him surmount all of the obstacles. And then it all gets very personal and very, very ugly. The body count rises, including a lot of collateral damage as well as some that hit close to home. The exposition-heavy dialog is clunky (“But this building is impenetrable!” someone says as the building is being penetrated). The banter is clunkier: “I’d rather take advice from a ham sandwich.” “Love you too, it goes without saying.” And yet, he says it.
I was not a fan of the last Alex Cross film, Along Came a Spider, because of its plot holes and factual clangers. (No, the Secret Service does not protect the children of Senators and the Russian President does not live in America.) Once again, the plot becomes increasingly more preposterous when super-detective figures out that super-villain is targeting someone who is about to make a presentation to the city council. Now, in that situation I might suggest moving the meeting to a different time or place, but no, these braniacs decide to send every cop in the city to the location to lock it down. For a presentation. That must be some power-point. It goes without saying that someone claims it’s the equivalent of impenetrable and it goes without saying that our Energizer bunny of a bad guy is way ahead of them. But they say it anyway.
Parents should know that this is an R-level movie. It has very intense and graphic violence for a PG-13 with torture including severed fingers as well as brutal fighting, guns, and bombs, very sad deaths of characters including a pregnant woman, explicit sexual situations for a PG-13 including bondage and partial nudity, some language, and references to drug use and drug dealing.
Family discussion: Who was right, Dr. Cross or his mother? What makes him so aware of the revealing details all around him?
If you like this, try: Morgan Freeman’s performances as Alex Cross in “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider”