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Movie Review: 'Alex Cross'

Emerging from James Patterson's novels, Tyler Perry follows the trail of more successful gumshoes

Director: Rob Cohen
Rating PG-13. Running Time: 101 mins.
Stars: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Rachel Nichols

As James Patterson's troubled detective/psychologist Alex Cross, Tyler Perry walks in the gumshoes of a legend: Morgan Freeman pinned Cross' badge to his jacket in Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001).

That's not quite the same as George Lazenby stepping in for Sean Connery as James Bond, but the question remains, does Perry have what it takes to keep audiences coming back for more?

The answer is yes, but he'll need more cogent scripts and skillful direction to make it work. In Alex Cross, character motivations are muddied — the central assassin, played with over-the-top mania by Lost star Matthew Fox, takes a murderous direction that even the super-sharp Cross never sees coming, and we never learn why.

Plus, director Rob Cohen does little to convince us that the banter among the lead trio of cops (played by Perry, Rachel Nichols and Edward Burns) is anything more than lines on a script page. The one exception is the always-magnificent Cicely Tyson. As Cross' worried mom, she manages to draw genuine drama from the weak material.

A dominant physical presence, Perry also has the acting chops to play a touching scene with his onscreen daughter one moment, then blow away a roomful of bad guys the next. Perry is one of America's most successful film producer/director/actors, idolized by his primarily African American fan base. A Cross franchise would go a long way to help the rest of the nation discover his appeals. I hope he'll get another go-round as Cross, with stronger support.

For inspiration, maybe Perry's producers should check out some of our favorite detective movies based on characters in best-selling novels:

Fletch (1985) Chevy Chase found his perfect screen role, starring as Gregory Mcdonald's investigative journalist with a penchant for disguise, double talk and wisecracks.

V.I. Warshawski (1991) The film's not great, but Kathleen Turner absolutely is as Sara Paretsky's tough-as-nails Chicago PI. The other characters have lots of trouble pronouncing her name — a cute joke that may have helped explain why less-literary-minded moviegoers stayed away.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) This is the only film adaptation of one of her novels that Agatha Christie declared herself to be happy with, and what's not to like? Albert Finney is Hercule Poirot, and if he's not fooled by the all-star cast of suspects —- including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave — well, we're happy to be.

The Big Sleep (1946) Humphrey Bogart was born to play Philip Marlowe, and he brings just the right combination of Rick Blaine and Sam Spade to the role. The plot is so complex that the screenwriters wired novelist Raymond Chandler to ask him whether the chauffeur had been murdered or committed suicide. "Dammit," Chandler later said, "I didn't know, either!"

Harper (1966) In Ross McDonald's novels the character is named Lew Archer, but for reasons still unclear, the studio changed his name to Harper. What remains intact is Lew's cynical, world-weary view of those around him — and the character's blue eyes, which star Paul Newman couldn't have changed if he wanted to.

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