Tyler Perry’s Alex Cross on the case, Sinister doings for Ethan Hawke

by Mark Burger

Tyler Perry, out of Madea’s housedress and on the mean streets of Detroit, follows in the big-screen footsteps of Morgan Freeman as top cop and criminologist Alex Cross , based on the character created for the bestselling series of mystery novels by the prolific James Patterson.

Some fans felt that Freeman, who essayed the role of Cross in Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001), was a bit mature for the role. Perry is certainly younger, as well as an agreeable and likable screen presence. This is his first major role in a film he hasn’t personally produced or directed, and although not entirely convincing as an action hero, he handles the role smoothly.

Not so smooth is Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson’s screenplay, which pits Cross against lean and mean Matthew Fox, cast as a hired assassin known as “Picasso” because of his penchant for drawing. Once Cross is on the case, it’s not long before it becomes extremely personal — not just for Cross but also for his team (Edward Burns and Rachel Nichols).

Rob Cohen has directed some big movies (including The Fast and the Furious and XXX) but not many good ones. There’s plenty of action, some of it filmed in hand-held fashion (unnecessarily and distractingly so), but Alex Cross shapes up as a competent but routine policier. It’s not a question of whodunit, but the “whydunit” is fairly convoluted — and not in a good way. The film is never dull but it’s not distinctive either, and often plays like an all-star TV pilot.

Cicely Tyson, who’s worked with Perry in the past, plays his doting mother here, and Carmen Ejogo plays Alex’s wife. A polished supporting cast includes John C. McGinley (like Burns, playing a cop for the umpteenth time), Giancarlo Esposito (stealing his one scene with ease) and a clean-shaven Jean Reno as an international tycoon tied up in the proceedings.

Those in the mood for some Halloween horror could do worse than Sinister , the latest film from co-writer/executive producer/director Scott Derrickson, whose The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) was effective but whose 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still was definitely not.

Ethan Hawke stars as a true-crime scribe who moves his family into a new house in Pennsylvania where, years ago, all but one of the previous family were hanged in the backyard. Do you think he bothers to inform wife Juliet Rylance of their new home’s heinous history? Of course not. After all, he’s got a book to write and a career to get back on track.

Hawke’s Ellison Oswald hears strange noises, finds a box of Super-8 home (and snuff) movies in the atttic, starts slugging back the whiskey and endures a sudden recurrence of his son’s night terrors — and this is all on the first night!

Going from earnest to twitchy — and then earnestly twitchy — Ellison tries to uncover the particulars of the paranormal activity, and although the film delivers some well-timed jolts, offers some truly nightmarish imagery that lingers in the memory, and boasts Christopher Young’s spooky score and an equally spooky sound design, Sinister proceeds at a stately pace before rushing toward its ultimate payoff.

There aren’t a lot of laughs to be found here, although James Ransome’s overly helpful deputy lends a bit of comic relief. An unbilled Vincent D’Onofrio and one-time presidental candidate Fred Dalton Thompson turn up briefly, neither to much effect, with the latter playing a grumpy sheriff who advises, “You can never explain something like this,” as Ellison and family are moving in. Needless to say, his warning is not heeded until, of course, it’s too late.

LOG ONTO — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”