Tyler Perry isn't the first performer to step into a role once owned by another established actor. Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and (soon) Chris Pine replaced Alec Baldwin as Tom Clancy's CIA hero Jack Ryan.
Mr. Perry is gutsy enough, however, to try to make audiences forget Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross in 1997's "Kiss the Girls" and 2001's "Along Came a Spider."
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns.
- Rating: PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity.
Novelist James Patterson has said Mr. Perry more closely resembles the homicide detective-psychologist and master profiler he created, but the "Alex Cross" reboot is just so-so.
It systematically tortures or kills off most female characters, ignores Alex's young son, forces Mr. Perry to play to his weaknesses as well as strengths, springs a surprise near the end for which a foundation isn't adequately laid and employs shaky cameras to try to whip up suspense. It also makes much ado about a psychopath portrayed by a skeletal, closely shorn, crazy-eyed Matthew Fox -- but never reveals his origins or what turned him into such a twisted maniac.
"Alex Cross," directed by Rob Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious," "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor") introduces Cross as a Detroit police detective who is being wooed by the FBI thanks to his perceptive powers as a profiler. His wife (Carmen Ejogo) isn't sure she wants to uproot their family and move to Washington, D.C., and Cross has a serial killer to catch before he can make any job changes.
Cross and his childhood pal turned police partner Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) barely survive a close encounter with a murderer known as Picasso due to a calling card he leaves at crime scenes. But he continues to elude their grasp as the body count rises and his capture becomes more than just a matter of routine police business.
Until now, Mr. Perry has often used his height of 6 feet 5 inches to comic effect as Madea and other characters in that wildly successful series. Here, it helps to turn him into a policeman who can convincingly tangle with a suspect even if he'll never be invited to join the "Expendables" team; Mr. Freeman, by contrast, was presented as a regular Sherlock Holmes at reading crime scenes and profiling perps.
The cast also includes Cicely Tyson as Alex's grandmother and moral compass, Nana Mama (although when he picks her up in a moment of exuberance you fear for her bones); Jean Reno as a wealthy industrialist; Rachel Nichols as another police detective; and John McGinley as the image-conscious police chief.
"Alex Cross" is set in Detroit although it filmed for six weeks in Cleveland and just two in Detroit, where it used such locations as the General Motors Heritage Center and the former Michigan Theatre (also reproduced on a safer set) to good or grand effect.
Mr. Perry and Mr. Burns have decent rapport although they're no Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena from "End of Watch." Maybe with a more polished script and less need to establish and introduce the principals, a second "Cross" could cross the finish line with more grace, speed and suspense.