YOU CAN'T drive five blocks in the city without seeing a giant "Alex Cross" billboard with Tyler Perry in Shaft's raincoat, shotgun at the ready.
With this new thriller, the erstwhile Medea makes the bold bid to cross-over from cross-dressing comedian to movie tough guy.
How does he do?
Well, you can't tell from "Alex Cross," a shockingly incompetent major studio release that strands Perry in a poorly written and poorly executed police procedural.
Perry has the title role here (based on James Patterson's character, but on no particular book) as a brainiac detective whose legendary profiling powers have made him the go-to guy in Detroit for lurid homicides.
And there are plenty of those in "Cross," which on some level wants to be a "Silence of the Lambs"-ish spectacle offering girl torture and a colorful serial killer, all while staying within the confines of a PG-13 rating.
The psycho here (emaciated Matthew Fox) announces himself by binding, drugging and then carving up a helpless woman, a sequence that culminates with the poor gal's fingers in a bowl (when this guy says he got her digits, he means it).
It's a measure of just how flat-footed "Cross" is that director Rob Cohen tries to shock us with this prologue, then plays the bowl of fingers for slapstick laughs not five minutes later.
"Alex Cross" turns out to be massively confused about everything - what kind of mood it wants to sustain, what kind of character Cross is.
Cross is meant to be an intuitive genius on the order of Sherlock Holmes, but there is no plot here to show us his alleged powers of deductive reasoning.
Instead, additional killings (expendable actress alert!) turn Cross into a rampaging vigilate bad-ass, and the movie can't make this sale either - the action here is about as dull as you'll ever see in a movie that costs this much money.
Where did the money come from? General Motors, apparently. Director Cohen contorts nearly every scene so as to feature a Cadillac, Tahoe or Suburban - it appears to be his top priority.
We understand the movie is set in the Motor City, and that taxpayers are still on the hook for a billion or so. But if you want to help GM, you have to make a better movie than this.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at philly.com/KeepItReel.