James Patterson’s uber-successful intuitive homicide cop, Alex Cross, is back on the big screen in a prequel of sorts, portrayed with an interesting mix of warmth and vengeance by Tyler Perry.
The film, which is based on the best-selling book series, begins grimly in Detroit – we are introduced to Cross and his boyhood pal/colleague Thomas Kane (Edward Burns) as they investigate a gruesome torture/murder scene at an upper class mansion. We also see the tender side of Cross when he finds out that his wife, Maria (Carmen Ejogo), is pregnant with their third child.
Unfortunately, Cross’s organized life soon changes. After Cross, Kane and their other colleague Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols), come across the killer called “Picasso” (former “Lost” alum Matthew Fox) and wound him, it sends him into a fury. Picasso (named for his fetish of doing bizarre charcoal drawings) then goes on a torturing/killing spree to strike back at Cross and his partners.
That’s when Cross changes from mild-mannered detective to avenging angel, breaking the rules and then some. Kane joins him as they hunt down the killer, searching for clues and finding them, step by painstaking step.
Fox is a real standout here, having lost 35 lbs. for his role as Picasso, playing a really evil character against type – his ex-military-vet-gone-cuckoo taunts Cross with phone calls, seeming to always be one step ahead of him.
This is also the first big acting departure for Perry, who made his cinematic mark with the film character Madea (a saucy older lady who could make even the toughest street dude wash out his mouth with soap) – he is pretty likeable as Cross, even in the parts where he cracks down on those trying to hide the killer’s identity. And the brutal scene where the hero and villain duke it out is a stomach-churner – it is hard to tell what exactly will happen at the end.
Director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious,” “XXX”) keeps the pace moving at a good clip; Burns does a nice turn with his role as Kane, chummy and regretful, as well as Nichols with her role as Cross’s whip-smart colleague. Jean Reno as a French industrialist has a short but memorable role, but when has Reno not had a good performance?
Then there’s Cross’s mother, Nana Mama (Cicely Tyson ) who nearly steals every scene she is in – whether she is giving a moment more poignancy or just being laugh-out-loud funny, the audience reacted as if they were seeing a familiar relative on the screen.
Be warned, though – there are violent scenes which are definitely not for the squeamish.
A sequel is already planned.