It’s hard to imagine any role played by Morgan Freeman that would make a comfortable fit for Tyler Perry, who’s not exactly the most conventionally authoritative figure on American movie screens. All the same, it’s downright painful to watch Perry struggle to take over James Patterson’s forensic-psychologist hero Alex Cross, previously inhabited by Freeman in 1997’s Kiss The Girls and 2001’s Along Came A Spider. Perry takes evident (and typically hammy) pleasure in early scenes depicting Cross as an affable family man, but his idea of intense cogitation—the character’s meant to be a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, capable of deducing entire personal histories from the most meager of clues—involves dropping his voice half an octave while staring glassily into the middle distance. And when a tragic turn of events finds Cross seeking bloody revenge, and Perry shifts into full-on badass mode… well, the best that can be said is that he’s sincere.
For all that, he’s still less embarrassing than Lost’s Matthew Fox, likewise cast against type as the film’s sadistic villain. First seen cage-fighting in what’s apparently meant to be a pickup move, this sleekly built assassin begins murdering his way up the ladder of a generic high-powered corporation, as Perry and his team (Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols) collect the severed digits of his victims and do their best to warn the madman’s apparent final target, kingpin Jean Reno. When Fox takes a personal interest in the cops on his trail—abetted by a totally credible and realistic newspaper story about a solved case that features beaming headshots of all three detectives—things turn decidedly ugly, leading to multiple cat-and-mouse phone conversations in which Perry shouts words like “maggot” and Fox twitches every muscle he can locate in what remains of his face after he dropped to what appears to be roughly 1 percent body fat.
Nominally based on Patterson’s 12th novel in the series, simply titled Cross, Alex Cross was directed by Rob Cohen (XXX, The Fast And The Furious), who’s far more adept with car chases and explosions than with the sort of vise-tightening suspense for which the author is known. But grievous shortcuts seem to have been taken in the writing as well. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when he’s sitting around his crime scenes making charcoal sketches in which he embeds clues regarding his next victim (remember, this is a paid assassin, not John Doe from Seven), and equally tough to credit the hero as an analytical genius when he seems to just pull sudden leaps of insight out of his ass. (To paraphrase the sage words of Holmes, when you’ve eliminated everything that isn’t in the script, what is in the script, however improbable, must be the truth.) If the Alex Cross franchise doesn’t successfully reboot, Perry may want to take a look at the hilariously gung-ho alien hunter Freeman played in Dreamcatcher. That dude seems more up his alley.