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Madea fights crime? Alex Cross'

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Film attempts to jumpstart Tyler Perry action franchise

There's something admirable about an actor who tries to break out and advance beyond his or her comfort zone. Watching someone trying to become something more comedians attempting dramatic roles, rom-com stalwarts trying action movies can be a lot of fun, and it can help an actor jump a tier or two in the Hollywood hierarchy.

But that's only if it works. If it doesn't work, you get a project that comes off as sadly (or comically) misjudged - a movie that is a transparent attempt to make the leap, yet not good enough to actually result in success. You get a movie where instead of catching hold and hauling himself up, the leaper instead falls to the ground in failure.

You get 'Alex Cross.'

On paper, all of the pieces are there. Alex Cross, a creation of best-selling author James Patterson, has been featured in two films before; the role was played by Morgan Freeman in 'Kiss the Girls' and 'Along Came a Spider.' This film, however, features a younger Cross, allowing for a good deal more direct action than the Freeman portrayals did.

And Tyler Perry (anything with 'Madea' in the title) made sense; he's one of the most prominent African-Americans working in film today. This movie gave him a chance to prove to the world that he's more than just a dude in a dress and an old lady wig. Add a couple of solid character actors as his best friend/partner (Ed Burns, 'Man on a Ledge') and nemesis (Matthew Fox, TV's 'Lost') and it would seem that you've got a formula for success.

Alas, 'Alex Cross' is much less than the sum of its parts.

Cross is a Detroit cop with a psych degree incredibly smart and hyper-observant. He teams up with his buddy and partner Tommy (Burns) on a particularly gruesome multiple homicide case one that involves the torture of a young woman. She is only the first.

As you might imagine, the rabbit hole only goes deeper as we encounter the nameless (and completely insane) assassin (Fox); the cops give him the nickname 'Picasso' due to the elaborate and skilled charcoal drawings he leaves at the scenes of his crimes. But this paid assassin is more than willing to kill others for free especially if hurting those others will hurt his new nemesis, Alex Cross.

The clock is ticking as Cross and his crew try to figure out when and where Picasso will strike again before someone close to them becomes the next victim.

I admire Tyler Perry for taking a chance. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. There's a goofy amiability, an inescapable squishiness about Perry that completely undermines his every attempt at being a tough guy. The action sequences in particular are jarring; the guy just looks out of place whilst throwing punches or brandishing a gun. It's a valiant effort he's clearly giving it his all but it just isn't happening.

Burns is OK, although he's little more than a placeholder. He's not given a whole lot beyond 'generic buddy cop,' but he does what he can. Jean Reno ('The Chef'), Rachel Nichols ('Conan the Barbarian') and Carmen Ejogo ('Sparkle') also contribute as gamely as they can.

Fox is something. He gives the kind of bizarrely over-the-top performance that makes you wonder how he got to that place. Don't get me wrong it's enjoyable enough and eminently watchable but the character Fox has created is jarringly weird. There's a creepy campiness that, while certainly interesting, doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.

So yeah. 'Alex Cross' is a failed attempt at making Tyler Perry a crossover star. But it isn't his fault; blame the ho-hum direction and lazy script before laying the responsibility at Perry's feet. That said, he might want to select his next breakout project with a little more care or else stick to cross-dressing.

1 out of 5

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