A tonal, narrative and casting mess from opening credit to final kill shot, “Alex Cross” finds the ubiquitous Tyler Perry replacing Morgan Freeman in the title role for the third film based on James Patterson’s beloved forensic psychologist.



 

 


The theater rattled Tuesday night, and it wasn’t because of the alleged action-thriller laboriously playing out on screen, but rather because of the 4.0 earthquake that struck Maine. Fortunately, there were no injuries from the quake, but the film required triage.


A tonal, narrative and casting mess from opening credit to final kill shot, “Alex Cross” finds the ubiquitous Tyler Perry replacing Morgan Freeman in the title role for the third film based on James Patterson’s beloved forensic psychologist.


But unlike the previous two, “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider” – both of which could shake you up and have you glancing over your shoulder – this latest installment falls flatter than guest-star-killer Matthew Fox’s victims.


The script, adapted by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson from Patterson’s “Cross,” is heavy with expository dialogue and every role is miscast, starting with the prolific Perry. The man who gained fame as an author, director and star of sitcoms and the “Madea” franchise, is his usual affable self, which is normally his strength, but doesn’t really suit the action-star persona he and director Rob Cohen are after.


He doesn’t know whether to play Cross straight or fortify him with more than just a pinch of Madea. So he does both – along with a lot of blathering and brow furrowing. Co-star Edward Burns is Tommy Kane, Cross’s lifelong best bud and partner on the Detroit homicide unit.


Both detectives land at a gruesome crime scene in which a sociopath killer has tortured his first victim and wiped out her stable of bodyguards.


It doesn’t take long before things get personal for Cross and he goes rogue – along with the film.


Fox, from TV’s “Lost,” is almost unrecognizable – lucky for him – as an emaciated murdering machine called Picasso. He’s killing big-shot members of an international conglomerate (Germans, French) one-by-one until he reaches his ultimate target – Leon Mercier (Jean Reno, “Flyboys”). Cross figures that out early on, and what plays out is a lightweight and standard-issue cat-and-mouse game with no tense moments – not even the climatic duel between Cross and Picasso.


For his part, Fox delivers a poor man’s version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. He’s all crazy eyes and catchphrases, and does naked pull-ups – even when he’s nursing a gunshot wound to the shoulder.


Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) barely registers as a top-shelf thug. Rachel Nichols (TV’s “NCIS”) is a serviceable third detective. John C. McGinley from “Scrubs” is out-of-sorts as the testy police captain. And Oscar-winner Cicely Tyson, lends gravitas in yet another mother-grandmother role.


This is PG-13, and a lot of the gruesomeness takes place off camera. The fight sequences that Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) does stage are so shaky and quick-cut that you can’t tell who is shot, bleeding, dead or down for the count.


Perry has a built-in audience, so that ought to draw in fans, but they might leave this one feeling double-crossed.


Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com.


ALEX CROSS


(PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity.) Cast includes Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox and Edward Burns. 1 star out of 4.