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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Tyler Perry plays the title psychologist/detective in "Alex Cross," in theaters now.
Tyler Perry plays the title psychologist/detective in "Alex Cross," in theaters now.

Steer clear of "Alex Cross"

"Don't Ever Cross Alex Cross." The tagline alone had me laughing at this movie way back when all I had to go on was the poster. And, as expected, all 101 minutes of "Alex Cross" the movie was just as terrible.

To be fair to terrible movies, I should clarify this is not one of the "so terrible it's good" kind. "Alex Cross" is more of the "hot garbage" variety. Everything about it – from its cliched script and vapid characters to the amateurish cinematography that makes "The Blair Witch Project"'s camera work look Oscar-worthy – feels so typical of the action thriller genre I was almost convinced I was watching a parody.

"Alex Cross" is the third movie venture for author James Patterson's titular whip-smart psychologist/detective (previously played by Morgan Freeman in the more successful "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider"). In it, Cross (Tyler Perry) gets embroiled in a dangerous murder mystery after a psychopathic killer (Matthew Fox) takes a deadly interest in Cross's family.

It would have potential, if only it weren't utterly squandered by the uninspired work of its screenplay writers. At no time do they endeavor to give the script any subtlety or let the audience figure anything out for themselves. Everything is explicitly stated or set up visually to ensure there's absolutely nothing challenging about processing what's happening. That's great for someone who had to take a bathroom break, but the rest of us are left sorely wanting.

We do get to figure out one thing on our own, though: the whole freaking plot. Even the most distracted audience member will have no trouble deciphering this transparent "Moviemaking 101"-style procedural to figure out who's pulling "Alex Cross"'s nefarious strings – specifically, who let sadistic psycho killer Picasso loose on the city.

If there's any redeeming aspect of this cinematic mistake, it's Fox's performance as said maniac. He dropped 40 pounds to transform into this tightly-coiled mass of muscle and madness and pulls it off with a gleefully twitchy fervor. His unfortunate penchant for crazy eyes was a little overbearing at times, but the overall end result was pretty impressive.

The same can't be said for all of the characters in "Alex Cross." Despite large amounts of blame placed squarely on the shoulders of the pandering material they had to work with, Perry and co-stars Edward Burns, Carmen Ejogo and others waltzed through their parts in a manner that practically shouted "I'm in it for the paycheck." Cross's family life is sickly sweet and picture-perfect; his relationship with his work partner and lifelong best friend falls flat; said best friend's love/hate banter and clandestine relationship with a fellow officer is unconvincing and trite. Even Jean Reno has fallen from his former action glory as a bloated and uncharismatic French investor targeted by Picasso.

"Alex Cross" was doomed to fail on all of this alone, but it's director Rob Cohen ("The Fast and The Furious," "xXx")'s shoddy work and filming choices that hammer the final nail into its coffin. The only excuse I could give his decision to film everything without mounted cameras is that it succeeds in distracting the audience from every other awful thing about the movie. What started as sloppy pans during the supposedly tense office deliberation scenes only escalated, finally culminating into a blurry mess of fists and debris during what should have been the climactic fight scene. At last, however, the movie succeeded in finally throwing the audience for a loop – if only because there was literally no way of following what had just transpired on screen.

I can't not recommend "Alex Cross" enough. It's a sad shell of an action movie that probably wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the backing of Patterson's book empire. Take the movie's tagline to heart and stay far, far away from this one.

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