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Tyler Perry lumbering, lost in confusing, dismal 'Alex Cross'

Summit Entertainment

Tyler Perry as "Alex Cross."

REVIEW: You almost feel sorry for Tyler Perry, stepping out of his own universe for the first time to try to expand his range and finding himself in something as thoroughly dismal as Alex Cross. An unpleasant film from the sadistic behavior of its loathsome villain to the grubbiness of its visual palette, this stands as a substandard attempt to bring novelist James Patterson's intuitive cop back to the big screen. All the same, it will be interesting to observe if much of Perry's generally loyal audience turns out to see him in a major change of pace, as well as if non-fans are curious to check him as a potential action hero. Whatever the opening is, legs are doubtful.

Among other things, Alex Cross features a mano-a-mano climax that is a strong contender for the title of worst major fight scene ever to grace a major motion picture. The lighting is dark, it's framed so tightly you can't tell who's hitting whom or what's going on, and the camera's intense jitters make it a virtual parody of filmmakers trying to make something exciting by shaking the camera. It's incredible one of the six producers didn't notice this and demand a retake.

Not directly based on any single one of Patterson's novels about the brilliant investigator and forensic psychologist but credited nonetheless as an adaptation of "Cross," the script by Mark Moss and Kerry Williamson takes the man back to his pre-Washington and FBI days, when he was a cop on the Detroit police force (though some might notice that, for financial reasons, the film was shot largely in Cleveland). This repositioning suits the fact that Perry is about 20 years younger than Morgan Freeman was when he played the role in "Kiss the Girls" in 1997 and "Along Came a Spider" four years later.

VIDEO: 'Alex Cross' trailer pits Tyler Perry against Matthew Fox

This is a nasty psycho-killer film plain and simple, centered on a wily and well-armed sicko who flat-out announces that, “Inflicting pain is a crucial part of my true calling.” In order to look more cadaverously sinister, Matthew Fox (Lost) might have shed more weight for a role than anyone since Christian Bale went skeletal for "The Machinist."  As is exhibited all too vividly at the outset, Picasso -- as he quickly becomes known for good reasons -- loves to torture, to feel his victims' pain, you might say, and it's up to Cross and his boyhood friend and partner Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) to track the maniac down.

Unfortunately, there's no preparation for the way Cross lays out how the first mass murder went down almost as soon as he arrives on the crime scene, apparently so accurately that his visions of what Picasso wrought are simultaneously presented as fact. He would seem to have an unnatural gift for sussing out a bad guy's M.O., but we never learn anything about this ability, other than that the FBI has noticed it and is paging him to D.C. The idea of moving doesn't sit too well with Cross' wife (Carmen Ejogo), who announces she's pregnant with their third child. But domestic decisions will have to wait until the maniac is brought down.

On precious little evidence, Cross thinks he has Picasso's intentions figured out -- he seems to be targeting the extravagantly rich -- but he and Tommy soon find the victims are too close to home. Picasso torments Cross with taunting phone calls and always seems a step or two ahead of his pursuer, for whom the hunt becomes a personal obsession.

Director Rob Cohen takes no time to set up scenes properly to build suspense or, as in the case of the climax and another action interlude involving a car crash, to even make them plausible. The camera shakes big time in another sequence when a major lead is discovered that might lead to the killer, and a coda set in Bali is preposterous in the way one of the characters spews out information he has no need to disclose.

Towering over the other actors (he's 6-foot-5), Perry lumbers around with a degree of charisma but a lack of emotional range or variety in line delivery. Although watchable and certainly different from the usual run of leading men, he's not really all that interesting in this character. Fox is plenty convincing as the cretin without the merest morsel of humanity, while the other actors just cash their paychecks, notably Jean Reno as a French industrialist with an unexplained penchant for turning the city of Detroit around.

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