Tyler Perry's new film offers the kind of laughs that turn infectious. A giggle becomes a snort, which them blossoms into a broad, unchecked howl.
Too bad Perry is playing a detective on the trail of a gruesome serial killer, not that righteously brassy broad named Madea.
"Alex Cross" gives Perry the chance to build a franchise apart from his Madea features, one anchored by author James Patterson's time-tested sleuth. Sounds promising, but Perry is dealt a very sorry hand almost across the board, from abysmal dialogue to tragic overacting, all capped by a ridiculously streamlined finale.
Perry is Alex Cross, the kind of detective who can tell if you had scrambled eggs for breakfast from 100 yards away. Or so says Tommy Kane (Edward Burns), Alex's high school chum and fellow cop. Alex has a near-supernatural sense for crime solving, only the film he's starring in takes precious little advantage of it.
The two detectives are on the hunt for a particularly nasty serial killer named Picasso (Matthew Fox, looking both malnourished and ripped). Our heroes survive one encounter with Picasso, and then the murders start getting personal.
Now, it's up to Alex and Tommy to stop Picasso before he can bug out his eyes, flex his biceps and over-emote like Al Pacino doing an impression of ... Al Pacino.
It might take a bulky thesis paper to catalog all the problems with "Alex Cross." Perry dodges some of the blame but will still be burdened by this misfire. His acting can be awkward and forced, but his grim performance here is an oasis of calm in a sea of wild emoting.
But what can any actor do with this cavalcade of cliches and putrid dialogue? Burns, who in his spare time writes witty indie films, must have been counting the zeroes in his paycheck while reciting lines like, "you don't play the game, the game plays you."
The great Cicely Tyson gives this clunker a brief moment of gravitas as the take no gruff mama archetype. But when Jean Reno appears as a businessman targeted by Picasso, you groan at the sight of another talented actor forced into a crushingly bad project.
Director Rob Cohen knows how to deliver genre thrills, from the underrated "Stealth" to "The Fast and the Furious." Here, he's trying to connect poorly realized sequences into a semblance of a story. Meanwhile, he shakes the camera so violently during fight scenes it could be Ms. Tyson serving as Perry's stunt double for all we know.
Alex Cross previously graced the screen in the person of Morgan Freeman courtesy of "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider." Perry is already in talks for his second Cross film. Once audiences start laughing at "Alex Cross" it might not take a super sleuth to see Hollywood putting the brakes on this franchise.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies