Alex Cross is an interesting exercise in back-engineering, a prequel that takes us back to the days before the psychologist/police profiler was the sage, solemn and inscrutable sleuth that Morgan Freeman ably brought to the screen in two films over a decade ago.
This Cross is cocky, a bit trigger-happy, prone to revenge, a real "action hero." And this Cross is played by Tyler Perry.
But by definition, he's less interesting. When you fill in somebody's back story, you strip away their "loner" mystique. When you focus on the flippant in a film about a frantic hunt for a psychopathic assassin, you diminish the urgency of the hunt and remove the gravitas of the character.
And when you make Tyler Perry run and point a gun, you remember why nobody has ever used him as an action figure before.
We meet Cross as a domesticated and revered Detroit "detective-doctor," a hyper-observant wizard whom his colleagues (Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols) call "Gandalf," a man to whom his boss (John C. McGinley) can point at a crime and say, "Solve it, please."
That's what happens when a killer tortures and murders a rich woman with a penchant for mixed-martial-arts fighters. Matthew Fox is a coiled spring of tension in this part -- all muscles and tattoos and shaved head. He has the budget, the gadgets and the mania for assaulting members of a company involved in Detroit redevelopment, no matter what security measures they take.
He's also something of a psychotic cliché -- twitchy, with blurry flashbacks that make him snap just as he's about to remove somebody's fingers or shoot out their eyes. He does Picasso-tribute charcoal sketches that he leaves at the crime scenes -- "clues" -- and drives a charcoal-colored Cadillac CTS, a chunk of product placement so blatant (among other General Motors plugs) as to deserve its own billing.
The script is freely adapted from James Patterson's "origin story" novel and is packed with indulgent dumbing down. German security folk snap "You EEEdiots" at the Detroit cops. Much of the movie fleshes out Cross' home life -- happily married (Carmen Ejogo), father of two, keeps his "Nana Mama" (feisty Cicely Tyson) in the house with him, as cook and dispenser of the wisdom of the ages.
Director Rob Cohen pays more attention to the shootouts and fights than the flow of the film, never fretting that there isn't a moment's suspense, never letting us feel for the victims.
Alex Cross is not an awful movie, but it isn't a very compelling one. If Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider had been this weak, there'd have been no reason, no urge to revisit the sad, serious character Freeman brought to life so vividly.