One day not too many weeks ago, I treated myself to a meal at Mike Duffy's Pub and Grill and a movie at the AMC theater in Clayton, Missouri. Dinner was a nice, cozy crock of chili accompanied by an order of an appetizer that, in spite of being named after one too many cities, could become a threat to Applebee's and T.G.I. Friday's: Buffalo Chicken Rangoons, with a side of sweet-and-sour sauce. Flaky, crispy, creamy, tart, sweet, and tipped with a peppery sting that added a sheen of sweat to the glow of pleasure on my face, those little gimmicks made my evening. And the movie Alex Cross, featuring Tyler Perry as the detective created by author James Patterson, didn't.
The problem with Alex Cross is that it's not one movie, but four movies crammed into the running time of one. First, it's a family melodrama, like a retelling of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry set in present-day Detroit—what with Cicely Tyson playing the lead character's mother who stops him on his way out the front door with a duffel bag full of sawed-off shotguns and says, "If you walk out that door, you'd better think about who you will be when you walk back in." Naturally there is also a scene where Tyler Perry comforts his daughter as they grieve over the death of his wife. "I'll never play the piano again," this infant petulantly whines. I would almost swear I saw a "Thank God" pass behind her father's tear-filled eyes. But that might have just been the Buffalo Rangoons stirring up gastrogeographical confusion inside me.
Next, the movie was an evil fitness video starring Matthew Fox, late of Lost, as a cold-blooded assassin who carries out stages of a ludicrously complex murder plot in between sets of fiendishly shirtless pull-ups. And it's all so very sad, because most people within 10 or 15 years of my age (+ or -) can remember when Fox was a nice-looking young man, whereas now, after riding a physical-fitness mania into his mid-forties, he just looks scary. Dude needs to put some body fat back on, that's all I'm saying.
The third movie within the movie is a buddy-cop flick featuring Tyler Perry (again?!) in a role previously played by Morgan Freeman, and Ed Burns as a sidekick who violates the canons of cops-and-bad-guys actioners by surviving to the end of the film with little more than a black eye to show for his jeopardy. In fact, it is Burns's character who does a Sam-and-Frodo and pulls his partner out of the crack of doom (here depicted as an abandoned theater repurposed as a parking structure). It just isn't right. At best, Burns should be last seen being loaded onto an ambulance, bravely hanging on and jonesing for Gummi Bears. The partnership between these two cops is especially awkward because: (1) they both lose their main squeeze at the same time, so neither gets a clear shot at comforting the other; and (2) after turning dirty to get the killer, they move on in tandem to a career at the FBI without suffering any consequences. I mean, couldn't there be an apoplectic captain to yell at them? OK, they do have John C. McGinley for a while—but he gets blown up before the buddies give him a really good reason to nail them.
And finally, squeezed into about a quarter of the movie's running time, there is the mystery-thriller in which a brilliant psychologist/detective (that's Doctor Cross to you) slowly gains ground on the equally brilliant monster he is chasing, using only his powers of observation, deduction, psychoanalysis and solid police work. Which ultimately proves to be a cheat anyway, since the case isn't solved until Dr. Cross and his partner steal evidence from their own precinct and use it to make a deal with Giancarlo Esposito. The bastards!