Can a phenomenally successful entertainment entrepreneur best known for playing a fat, mouthy old black lady in floral-print drag do a credible job as a leading man/action star? Sure, theoretically. But Tyler Perry’s performance in Alex Cross isn’t the place to find out. The movie — a roughly assembled roots story about the fictional homicide detective/genius psychologist created by blockbuster novelist James Patterson and more memorably played by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls — is so cloddish, slapdash, gracelessly written, and visually fugly that it’s difficult to distinguish Perry’s limitations in the role from those of the whole unpleasant enterprise.
Working with his partner and best pal since childhood (played by Ed Burns, given tinny dialogue and delivering it with grating Irish-from-the-hood swagger), Cross is after a psycho serial killer the cops call Picasso because of the cubist charcoal drawings he leaves behind after he’s done torturing his victims. (Special torture is reserved for women because?well, because this is a sick, slick, pandering genre, where what’s creepy enough on the page looks positively exploitative on screen.) Played by a skinny yet shredded Matthew Fox with a lot of bug-eyed facial activity and a showy display of actorish physical tics, Picasso clearly has a methodical agenda in mind, and it’s up to Cross (along with his hey-dude-wait-for-me! sidekick) to figure out what makes those tics tick. (One of Picasso’s intended targets appears to be a mega-rich international industrialist, played by Jean Reno with smarm bordering on that of late-stage Gérard Depardieu.)
And then, throwing Crisco on the fire, the villain’s evil also spreads to the hero’s personal life. We’re meant to like Cross even more when he’s angry. In fact, there’s no incentive to care about any of it — not the chase, not the lurid action sequences, not the perfunctory sprinkling of Cross family togetherness scenes and homilies about love and devotion thrown in as a reminder that Perry’s core audience knows him best as the softball preacher who produced material like Madea’s Family Reunion and Why Did I Get Married? In the face of such junk, the idea that Fox would proudly put himself on a punishing regime of severe diet and exercise to get prisoner-skinny-yet-crazy-muscled for the job of make-believe is vanity at best, obscenity at worst. D