Even with Tyler Perry essaying the title role in Alex Cross, don't expect to see any Cross cross-dressing in this adaptation of one of the many countless thrillers penned by best-selling author James Patterson. While Perry has made the bulk of his considerable fortune donning a dress to play the larger-than-life character of Madea, the actor plays it straight here. Keeping it so close to the vest, Perry acquits himself well enough, even if his limited turn brings to mind Dorothy Parker's famous quip about Katharine Hepburn (in a particular stage performance) running "the gamut of emotions from A to B."
Morgan Freeman played an older Alex Cross in 1997's fairly decent Kiss the Girls and 2001's daft Along Came a Spider, so this new film can be viewed as a prequel of sorts - although finding the through-line in these actors' radically different interpretations of the character can be a daunting task. In this outing, Cross is a Detroit detective-psychologist whose team consists of BFF Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols). Their case involves them tracking down a demented killer they dub Picasso (Matthew Fox), a muscle-bound maniac who gets a thrill out of torturing people. Picasso has been hired by an unknown person to assassinate a French titan of industry (Jean Reno) as well as those closest to him, but after Cross and his team temporarily gum up his schedule, he elects to come after them as well.
Alex Cross is for the most part a stridently by-the-numbers thriller, yet its casual cruelty serves to also render it slightly repellent. Because Picasso is never identified as a serial misogynist - he's supposed to be an equal opportunity provider of pain - the fact that the most brutal and shocking acts of violence are all committed against women speaks ill of director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and his scripters. The first victim is injected with a date-rape drug that renders her paralyzed but able to feel everything that happens to her - which, in this case, includes getting all 10 fingers snipped off. Other women meet equally horrific deaths. (Incidentally, the ever-clueless MPAA rated this laughfest PG-13; heck, why not go ahead and rate it G? Bring the kids!)
The performances are solid throughout the supporting ranks, with Fox the notable exception - his camp performance suggests too many screenings of Mommie Dearest prior to filming. Then again, perhaps a little more camp might have helped balance out against the sordidness of the enterprise.
Cicely Tyson appears as Alex's mother, Nana Mama, and while it's always nice to see this American icon in a rare screen appearance, it might have been in the film's best interest if Perry had refashioned the role as Nana Madea and played opposite himself in drag.