Tyler Perry has many talents: writing heart-tugging morality tales, producing movies that make gobs of money and slipping into that Madea costume with no regard for his dignity.
One talent Perry doesn't possess is knowing how to play a kick-ass action star, and that woeful inability dooms the police thriller "Alex Cross" from the get-go.
Perry plays the title character, the creation of novelist James Patterson and previously portrayed on film by Morgan Freeman in "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider." Dr. Cross, as he is known, is a forensic detective with the Detroit Police Department, leading a team of investigators with his uncanny ability to observe every detail of a crime scene and profile any psycho killer.
The movie begins by establishing Cross' two families: his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), their two kids and Cross' irascible mama (Cicely Tyson); and his crime-scene team, which includes Det. Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), who is Cross' best friend since childhood, and Det. Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), who is sleeping with Tommy on the side, in violation of police policy.
Cross, Kane and Ashe are called in to a particularly gruesome murder scene and discover the victim (Stephanie Jacobsen) is tied to a French billionaire, Leon Mercier (Jean Reno), who is involved in a major downtown revitalization project. Soon the team is on the trail of a muscular skinhead assassin ("Lost's" Matthew Fox), and when the team thwarts one elaborate murder attempt, the killer starts targeting Cross' colleagues and family.
In any action movie and director Rob Cohen knows his way around the genre, having made "The Fast and the Furious" and "XXX" this would be the point where Cross would get angry and spit out something like "now it's personal." But Perry isn't a spitter, so his attempts to bring the rage come off as forced and unintentionally comical. And Perry, tall and doughy, isn't convincing in the fight scenes or other physical moments.
Perry isn't completely hopeless, though. He's strong in the quiet moments, such as his scenes with Tyson and with Cross' daughter (Zara Shahidi, from "Butter") after a tragic series of events. Those scenes feel right at home in one of the melodramas that Perry writes and directs, but are wedged in awkwardly in a gritty police procedural even one with the odd tone shifts Cohen and screenwriters Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson plant in the storyline.
For all of the problems Perry encounters, though, the worst miscasting in "Alex Cross" is Fox's performance as the nameless killer. Thinned down and wiry, with a shaved head and wild eyes, Fox commits fully to the role but any sense of menace is spoiled with the character's reedy voice, which reminded me of Christopher Lloyd's villainous 'toon in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Fox obviously wanted to stretch after six seasons on "Lost," but this role is outside his grasp.
Tyler Perry feels out of place in this gritty police procedural.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Oct. 19.
Rating • PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity.
Running time • 101 minutes.