"Alex Cross" may not impress, but it will entertain

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This film image released by Summit Entertainment shows Tyler Perry in the title role during a scene from “Alex Cross.” (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment)

The idea of an action franchise driven by Tyler Perry is nothing short of hilarious. Perry is famous for cross-dressing in stereotype-driven adaptations of his own work. The poster for “Alex Cross,” featuring a stern-faced Perry standing inside a silhouette of co-star Matthew Fox, is an obvious effort to show audiences this is a far cry from Madea. Unfortunately, the film is nothing more than a launching pad for a franchise that completely fails to lift off, and as a whole, “Alex Cross” is a special kind of stupid.

“Alex Cross” is a creation of popular novelist James Patterson, and was previously played by Morgan Freeman in a handful of late-90’s thrillers. When Perry takes over, Cross is a Detroit cop on the verge of transferring to the FBI. However, his plans are disrupted when a maniacal assassin known as Picasso, played by Fox, begins brutally murdering local big-shot foreign executives. When Cross and his partner, Tommy (Edward Burns), get on Picasso’s trail, they find themselves in his crosshairs.

“Alex Cross” doesn’t have a bit of subtlety in its entire script, and the dialogue is about as deep and layered as your average puddle. The “surprising” climactic reveal of the film’s ultimate villain is made crystal clear with one line of dialogue before the character is even introduced. The script connects the dots for the characters as well as the audience, and despite how brilliant Alex Cross is supposed to be, he’s really more of a psychic, instantly knowing the answers to a case without doing any real detective work. It’s pretty funny as Perry struggles to justify his out-of-left-field, 100 percent correct theories without any logic behind them and watching the film’s actors choke out the asinine dialogue is a masterclass in keeping a straight face.

The cast is full of recognizable faces, from Rachel Nichols as a fellow cop to John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”) as Cross’ politicking boss to a winking cameo from “Breaking Bad’s” Giancarlo Esposito. Everyone has decent chemistry, but the script throws a wet blanket on any onscreen sparks. Perry looks the most uncomfortable here, and he simply flounders as an action hero. He doesn’t have the imposing build, badass demeanor or physicality to headline a franchise, and as Cross is plunged into increasingly dark territory, Perry becomes less and less convincing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fox is undeniably effective as Picasso, the film’s bug-eyed villain. Fox plays Picasso with a bulging, manic intensity, and the film gets much more interesting (and unintentionally comedic) when Fox and his stable of contorted facial expressions are onscreen. It helps that “Alex Cross” isn’t afraid to let Picasso wrack up a decent body count amongst the film’s major characters, but once Cross and Tommy get embroiled in a revenge plot, it becomes clear that those characters were nothing more than sacrifices to the altar of distracting the heroes from actually solving their case.

“Alex Cross” is by no means a good movie, but it’s an extremely watchable one. The worst thing a film like this can be is boring, and “Alex Cross” is never that. It’s a lot of fun to pick apart the film’s script or simply enjoy Tyler Perry running around with a shotgun. While horrible special effects, a paper-thin script and some tragic miscasting hamper the film, at least they keep things interesting, and that’s about the best you can hope for from “Alex Cross.”

Printed on Thursday, October 18, 2012 as: Tyler Perry movie at least entertains