Tyler Perry shows us he's got some range as Alex Cross, the doctor/detective hero popularized by the James Patterson novels. The film is a reboot of the franchise; Cross had been played before by Morgan Freeman. This film is an origin story helmed by action director Rob Cohen. I was not familiar with the novel it's based on, so was quite surprised by the visceral nature of the film. Alex Cross hits pretty hard for a PG-13 film. Perry, who made his considerable fortune in drag as Madea, was wise to embrace a film that pulled no punches and shows he can be a bad ass on screen.

Alex Cross opens with the detective living an ideal family life. He's got the wife, kids, irascible mother, and a lifelong best friend/partner, Tommy Kane (Edward Burns). It's the classic buddy cop setup until the pair come across a psychotic hit man called Picasso (Matthew Fox). Picasso is no joke. He decides to ramp up the game several notches after Cross disrupts one of his hits. Picasso's actions are brutal and terrifying, forcing Cross and Tommy to shred the rulebook to find him.

The overall story in Alex Cross is merely a side dish. The purpose of this film is to introduce the audience to the character of Alex Cross at a defining moment in his life. It does this with lurid, pulpy scenes of torture and loss. I must say it works. It draws the audience in emotionally as Cross turns rage into purpose. There's a fair amount of details missing in the chase, but Cohen makes the decision to fuel the film with events as opposed to exposition. Normally this approach can be nonsensical and erratic, but Alex Cross thrives in its raw emotional state. The audience is drawn into the primary character's need for revenge and is willing to overlook minor plot points to get it.

Matthew Fox is unrecognizable as Picasso. I had not seen any trailers for Alex Cross before seeing the film and was absolutely shocked by his transformation. He is rail thin, but covered in sinewy muscles and tattoos. His face is so gaunt, his voice so shrill and tense; every word he utters causes the veins in his neck to pulse like a heartbeat. Fox is deliciously demented here, a truly heinous character. Cohen straddles the PG-13 line like a tightrope with Fox's antics. Picasso has a torture fetish and it's grim. Matthew Fox shows us nothing but rage and villainy. The actor revels in this performance. It's one sided, but is a perfect foil for the balanced character of Alex Cross.

The plot for Alex Cross can be dissected for flaws. There's a lot left on the table that could have been explained, but the filmmakers chose not to make the film an episode of CSI. Alex Cross has more of a seventies, Charles Bronson feel to it. The bad guy is so despicable; the good guys are warranted to get him by any means. Couple that with a lean runtime and you've got a swift film that entertains. Tyler Perry's audience will like him as the smart, but tough Alex Cross. The interplay between him and Ed Burns, though very generic, works enough to buy them as a team. I'm betting we'll get to see more of Alex Cross and Tommy Kane.

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