Tyler Perry doesn’t need to prove anything.
The man made a fortune by packing his 6-foot-5-inch frame into a dress to deliver gospel-tinged wisdom as sassy matriarch Madea. How could he possibly top that?
By taking on a role once played by Morgan Freeman, that’s how.
In “Alex Cross,” a rebooted adaptation of James Patterson’s crime novels, Perry takes the character back to his beginnings as a Detroit psychologist and detective. He acquits himself well as a serious actor in something that doesn’t have his name in the title.
With his partners Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), Alex chases down bad guys, eventually running afoul of an unnamed assassin (Matthew Fox of “Lost”), who enjoys torturing his victims.
Dubbed “Picasso” for the charcoal drawings he leaves with the bodies, the killer is targeting wealthy businesspeople, including the head of an international company (Jean Reno) with plans to revitalize the city.
Although much of the film was shot in Cleveland, director Rob Cohen does capture some of Detroit’s decaying grandeur, most notably in scenes shot in the old Michigan Theatre, now the world’s most decorative parking garage.
That sequence also highlights Cohen’s severe limitations. He’s used to helming big, dumb movies like “XXX” and “The Fast and the Furious,” but a hand-to-hand fight in a dark, crumbling building is beyond his abilities. Cohen shakes the camera constantly, even in the film’s quieter moments, but this scene should come with a seizure warning.
Cohen’s handling of actors is equally shaky, and the presence of writer-director-actor hyphenates like Perry and Burns is the only thing that saves the dramatic material. Alex’s relationship with his family is sweet and genuine, and he and Tommy have a nice buddy-movie vibe. One can’t help but wonder if the two stars clandestinely took over when Cohen was busy blowing things up.
Fox doesn’t fare as well, blinking and twitching manically in a generic psycho role. “Picasso” is physically and mentally superhuman, with no backstory, so Fox overcompensates with a performance that combines Max Cady from “Cape Fear” with Dracula’s giggling henchman Renfield (minus the bug-eating, but just barely).
As an attempt to establish another franchise, “Alex Cross” is modestly successful, but the series will need directors with more finesse than Cohen. And while Perry will never be another Morgan Freeman, he should continue to make a convincing Alex Cross.