I confess, I was not a fan of the two previous films based on novelist James Patterson’s Alex Cross character (“Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider”), despite Morgan Freeman’s performances in the lead role.

Sadistic murderers and rapists on the loose, being tracked down by cliché police work, set to uninspiring scripts – the films were a bit boring on one hand and morally repugnant on the other.

But with self-described Christian filmmaker Tyler Perry in the lead role and a rating softened from R to PG-13, could the new film in theaters “Alex Cross” prove a step up from Patterson’s previous pictures?

Once again, we have a sadistic murderer on the loose, this time played with an eerie, maniacal coldness by an anorexic version of Matthew Fox (best known as the good guy Jack in TV’s “Lost,” here, anything but a good guy). Once again, we have too much sex, too little intrigue and too little story to make the film anything more than a typical crime drama.

This is not boding well.

Then we have the performance of Perry, who shines in his role as husband and son and father and friend, giving the character Alex Cross some real heart; but who also lends nothing to the depiction of Detective Dr. Super Sleuth.

In the end, we’re left with a barely average, very forgettable film and a wish that Morgan Freeman was young enough to play the foil to Fox’s bad guy. That could have been interesting.

We’re also left with some very mixed messages on the morality of revenge.

On one hand, actress Cicely Tyson in the role of Cross’s mother delivers some powerful lines warning her son against seeking revenge on the killer dubbed “Picasso” after the antagonist strikes at Cross’s family.

“You’ve appointed yourself judge, jury and executioner,” she warns her detective son, hoping to stop him from his path of vengeance.

“You’re soul is always in your body,” she adds. “You can’t lose this.”

And as he’s about to walk out the door guns blazing, she tries once more: “How are you going to walk back in here? How would you look your children in the eye? What would you say to them?”

Even Picasso has words of warning for Cross, “Confucius said, ‘When setting on the path of revenge, dig two graves.'”

All of the above are sound pieces of advice, but with Picasso threatening the lives of his partner and his family, Cross refuses to listen.

“I will meet his soul at the gates of hell before I let him take another person I love,” Cross declares.

Now, we can debate whether a husband and father in Cross’s shoes should go gun-ho (sic) to protect his family, or whether there was a way for him to seek justice without revenge, but the film “Alex Cross,” after bringing up these valid questions and intriguing moral dilemmas … just decides to avoid dealing with them.

From that point of the film on, “Alex Cross” forgets its heart and its mind and becomes a cops-and-robbers, revenge flick.

By the end of the film, Cross does indeed face a moment when he must “walk back in here” and “look his children in the eye” … and the movie botches the whole scene. There are no real consequences for his actions, no fulfillment of his mother’s astute advice.

Maybe Patterson covered it better in his books, or maybe Cross must pay for his choices later on in his story, but without a more meaningful resolution to “Alex Cross,” all the heart and soul that Tyson and Perry put into this film falls apart.

And without the heart and soul, “Alex Cross” simply isn’t a good enough crime drama to warrant your ticket price.

Content advisory:

  • Despite its PG-13 rating, “Alex Cross” has a pair of scenes, early in the film, that are loaded with sexuality. Two barely clothed women seduce and straddle their men in prolonged scenes, which – while interrupted before straying into NC-17 territory – are gratuitous and detracting from the film. There are also a few gals in bikinis, some kissing, some shirtless men, some sexual flirting and dialogue and some explicit song lyrics.
  • The film contains roughly 30 profanities and obscenities, though few are particularly strong, as it falls short of an R rating.
  • The movie naturally has some violent scenes, particularly Picasso’s murders, chase scenes, an ugly, mixed martial arts cage fight and a lengthy hand-to-hand combat scene. It’s not quite at action-flick levels, and there isn’t much gore for a movie about a serial killer, but it’s definitely in the crime drama family. A brutal car collision and a woman’s severed finger mark some of the film’s more startling moments.
  • The movie contains several religious references, perhaps reflecting Perry and Tyson’s presence in the cast. In addition to the Confucius quote mentioned above, the police chief mentions attending a prayer breakfast, a funeral includes the gospel song “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” plays and a downtrodden Cross seeks comfort in a hospital chapel. There are also some characters sporting tattoos of unknown meaning, some wearing crosses and a cage fight that takes place in an ornate, abandoned church building – the filmmaker’s deliberate contrast of evil in the heart of what was good. Despite the serial killer, however, there is no overt occult content.

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