The action-hero debut of a famous funnyman, the reboot of a neglected cinematic franchise, a strong candidate for dumbest film of the year–there are so many compelling stories surrounding Alex Cross. Alas, its actual script doesn’t offer one of them. Rather than a direct adaptation of any of James Patterson’s bestselling Alex Cross novels, screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson have concocted an origin-story, serial-killer, revenge thriller, buddy-cop movie amalgam, introducing Alex Cross as a family man and mastermind detective for the Detroit PD who goes to war with a homicidal wacko (realized with clichéd gusto by Matthew Fox).
Replacing Morgan Freeman, whose stately schtick graced previous Patterson procedurals Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, is Tyler Perry, at last free of the fat suit. Much will be said of Madea’s transformation into a shotgun-toting badass, and for what it’s worth, Perry’s charisma largely carries him through, save for a few expressions of rage that look jarringly like the exertions of constipated defecation. But more notable is that director Rob Cohen has situated Perry’s dramatic coming-out party within the insta-camp milieu of 1980s chop-socky quickies, the kind that starred Segal and Van Damme.
Cohen exploits Detroit’s decay (or the idea of it, anyway—the film was largely shot in Cleveland) exactly as you’d expect, staging implausible pursuits through urban catacombs and hollowed-out theaters, while positing whinnying Long Islander Edward Burns as a Motor City native and childhood friend to Perry.
Now a master of the smugly inept line reading, Burns is the key to appreciating Alex Cross as an unintentional but thoroughgoing parody of itself. From Cross’s unchecked nobility and clairvoyance (he’s a church-going Sherlock Holmes who argues for a switch to the FBI because it comes with “great dental”) to the ludicrous idea that Detroit is suffering at the hands of billionaire Europeans (like the bloated Jean Reno, suddenly a poor man’s Powers Boothe), and from spit-take blatant plugs for the likes of Cadillac and OnStar to a tacked-on finale that briskly explains away a landfill’s worth of narrative nonsense via Skype, there’s not a moment in Alex Cross that doesn’t function splendidly as comedy. Which means that for all his cool-cat preening and heroic soul-searching, Tyler Perry must have felt right at home.