One understands Tyler Perry’s desire to step away from his money-gushing Madea movies, put on some pants, and channel his many talents in a new direction. Unfortunately, the area into which he’s chosen to branch out—the cop-versus-killer thriller—is one for which he’s all wrong in just about every way. Even more unfortunately, he has placed himself in the hands of Rob Cohen, a sloppy action director whose last film, the 2008 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was idiotic in just about every way.
The character of Alex Cross—a detective with a psychology degree—comes to us from a long series of novels by the madly prolific James Patterson, and was portrayed by Morgan Freeman in two hit movies made more than a decade ago. Freeman is a much more subtle actor than Perry, however—Perry’s defining characteristic as a performer is his radiant, huggy-bear warmth. This quality sits oddly in a story about a tough Detroit detective stalking a vicious assassin. But Perry knows that sensitivity is his strong suit, and so amid the bloody murders and blurry chases that litter this picture, he and Cohen have allowed lots of room for the actor to display his soft side. There are long, nuzzly interludes with Cross and his lovely wife (Carmen Ejogo), gentle heart-to-heart scenes with Cross and his little daughter (Yara Shahidi), and much affectionate byplay involving Cross and his wizened mom (Cicely Tyson). There are also more tears than any tough cop has ever been called upon to shed—at one point, Cross and his stalwart partner (Edward Burns) sit side by side in a chapel pew and weep together. We keep wanting the assassin to come back and kill some more people—maybe them. Eventually he does return, but never soon enough.
The killer is a bony, pop-eyed lunatic played by Matthew Fox, of Lost (who appears to have prepared for the role by dropping every pound it’s possible to lose and still retain signs of life). Because of this whackjob’s practice of leaving Cubist sketches of his victims at his crime scenes, Cross dubs him Picasso. Inevitably, the killer makes taunting phone calls to Cross in which he explains his love of inflicting pain—often upon the female characters in the story, who are on hand mainly to die. There’s a lot of running around and fist-fighting and automotive uproar, and Cohen stages it all so ineptly, and shoots it so hyper-shakily, that very soon we give up caring about whatever it is that’s supposed to be going on.
Also putting in a number of appearances is the estimable Jean Reno, here simply cashing a check to play the French businessman who is Picasso’s top target. Cross is the man who nails him in the end, however—in one of the most witlessly contrived conclusions in cop-flick history.
It’s hard to imagine how this film could have been more ruinously misconceived or lumberingly executed, although we may soon see—a sequel is already in the works.