It's a Hollywood truism that nobody sets out to make a bad movie, but how else to explain a debacle like "Alex Cross"? This overwrought, oppressively violent police thriller has not got an original bone in its empty little head. From its cliché opening -- an irrelevant gun battle and chase -- to its derivative climax, this is a film with decades of dust on it.
In the title role, Tyler Perry trades Madea's gaudy XXXL house dress for a Detroit police psychologist's drab trench coat. His character is a Sherlockian detective/doctor who walks through crime scenes tossing out snappy snap judgments on what must have led to this particular scattering of corpses. He "can tell if you had scrambled eggs for breakfast from 100 yards," as his partner (Ed Burns) puts it. How is it he didn't recognize this dog's breakfast of a script?
The film is an odd mix of family-friendly subplots and electroshock violence. Perry plays Cross as a bulldog crime fighter on the job and a good-hearted puppy dog at home. In domestic scenes of marzipan sentimentality, he cuddles his adorable kids, wife and grandma. Off-duty, he is a regular Dr. Phil, discussing his emotions and aspirations at the drop of a hankie.
But director Rob Cohen ("Fast and Furious") is less invested in catering to Perry's legions of female fans than in spiking the story with atrocities. Since Perry's performance swerves between leaden and wooden, this is an understandable strategy.
The story pits Cross against an elite assassin ("Lost's" Matthew Fox in a sneering, obnoxious performance) killing executives of billionaire Jean Reno's Detroit-based multinational. The hit man's fee is $3 million, and it's shocking how little your money buys these days. He leaves behind clue-laden sketches of his victims, drives a car whose OnStar security system is a snap to track, and chooses not to kill Cross when he has a perfect opportunity.
It does not require a clairvoyant to capture a perp this perverse. It scarcely calls for a semifinalist on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader." If you can guess that the fat lady in the billowing red gown and Brunhilde helmet is an opera singer, you have the powers of observation necessary to catch this guy. The ease with which the culprit eludes cops feels less like tension-building than time-killing.
"Alex Cross" lacks the elements needed to generate anxiety and suspense, or even a sense of local color. Instead, the movie goes for disorienting action scenes and cleaver-to-the-head shock effects. Fox's whack-job malevolence is Hannibal Lecter on Red Bull. He's a master of martial arts, a deadly sniper, an amateur vivisectionist, frogman, computer whiz and a museum-quality artist. There is nothing he can't do but be believable.
Nor does the plot hold water. It takes place in a universe where the exit strategy for corrupt businessmen is to blow up City Hall, not declare Chapter 7 and loot the pension fund on the way out the door. You don't have to be a genius behavioral expert to decode the audience's impatient body language during this slog.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186 On Twitter: @colincovert