Alex Cross is as generic as a cop movie can be--it's a few commercial breaks away from airing on CBS or TNT--but there's been a certain fascination about it since it was announced that the lead role would be played by Tyler Perry, he of the spectacular multimedia empire built around his own drag turns as elderly, cantankerous Madea. This would be his first significant role not of his own devising--how would he fare? Well, to cut to the chase, Perry doesn't embarrass himself--you won't see him holding a gun and think you're watching outtakes from a Madea comedy--but one would like to think he'd be the first to admit that he's no match for Morgan Freeman, who previously played Cross in adaptations of other volumes in James Patterson's very successful series, Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Perry brings a pleasant demeanor and basic performing skills to the role, but apart from his name value, nothing else that a dozen other actors couldn't have done.
The movie itself is completely forgettable, equipped even with the obtrusive product placements and running time we associate with TV movies. It's essentially a prequel to the Freeman movies about Cross, in which the hero is still a married Detroit homicide detective with special psychological expertise (being recruited by the FBI to work as a profiler in Washington, where the character eventually went). Like any TV cop hero, he has a supportive wife (Carmen Ejogo) with her own career, a loving grandma (Cicely Tyson, doing her own pseudo-Madea), and a number 2 on the squad (Edward Burns) who's been his best buddy since childhood, We keep getting told how brilliant Cross is, but apart from one show-off moment where he reconstructs his wife's day, he never seems to do anything particularly smart.
His quarry is known only as Picasso (Matthew Fox, newly gaunt for the part and aggressively trying to make everyone forget Jack Shepherd and Lost). Picasso is one of those brilliantly insane killers beloved of potboilers: a sociopathic narcissist (as Cross helpfully lets us know) who has a fascination with inflicting pain (this includes, despite the PG-13 rating, the amputation of fingers), impeccable knowledge of every mode of killing from poison to sniper rifle to explosives, and a habit (from whence he gets his nickname) of leaving Cubist charcoal sketches with teasing clues behind at his kills. Since his identity is known to us from the start, the mystery is supposed to be who's hired him to come to Detroit and commit these crimes, but Alex Cross is the kind of thriller (the script is credited, if that's the word, to Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson) where you literally don't even have to see the real villain to know who it is--as soon as an off-screen character is described, you know exactly what cliche will be unveiled in the last reel.
Also on hand, among others, is the "this time it's personal" gambit, wherein it's best not to get too close to the heroes. Alex Cross doesn't skip a lot of cliches, and they don't even offer the comfort food satisfactions of being done well. The big final confrontation between Cross and Picasso is horribly staged by director Rob Cohen (his previous products include XXX-not the good kind--and the Mummy sequel where someone else played Rachel Weisz's part), with a mix of frenzied cuts, manually shaken camerawork and angles that are too close, making it impossible to even tell who's winning, while the script only makes token gestures toward making sense. (My favorite idiot moment may have been when a car crashes full-on into another, without possibly being able to know that was the correct car to hit.)
Perry, as noted, is competent but somewhat limited, and much of the supporting cast, like Jean Reno as a French industrialist unaccountably interested in rebuilding downtown Detroit, and John C. McGinley as the requisite brain-dead police Captain who won't listen to reason, are clearly there just waiting for their checks to clear (or in Edward Burns' case, to accumulate enough for financing of his next indie movie). Fox, though, commits fully to his unsavory part, and in his brief appearance as a local gangster, Giancarlo Esposito at least evokes some nostalgia for the glory days of Gus Fring.
The producers and Perry, who of course is rich enough to do anything he wants, have already announced that this is intended as a franchise, and that more Alex Cross movies are on the way. The next one needn't even make a pit-stop on the way to DirecTV.