I, Alex Cross

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Da Grace Race, Entertainment
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Alex Cross is another bad Tyler Perry film, but the problem is Perry himself

Actor-director-producer’s success among black audiences is sucking the air out of the African-American movie conversation

Tyler Perry (Alex Cross)and Matthew Fox(Picasso) in the Movie

Tyler Perry (Alex Cross)and Matthew Fox(Picasso) in the Movie

So Tyler Perry is in yet another terrible movie? Stop the presses! Adjourn Congress! Declare martial law! Or just go back to sleep. Perry has been called “the KFC of black cinema” and “the worst film-maker in Hollywood” (by MSNBC talkshow host Touré), and widely lambasted for building an empire of cash on a body of work filled with self-hating and retrograde racial stereotypes of African-Americans. No less august a figure than Spike Lee has been moved to note that, “We got a black president, and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Slap’n’Eat?” (two noted mid-century black entertainers). Yet Tyler Perry is about the richest and most successful African-American entertainment impresario around: Berry Gordy-rich, Quincy Jones-ubiquitous, and a 100%-down home. His work doesn’t travel internationally, suggesting that it is far from universal, so most of his profits are made within America’s black community. Occasionally, his work is noted more widely, as with Precious, which he co-produced with Oprah Winfrey, one of the few media figures with whom he can be profitably compared.

What makes his latest movie, Alex Cross, unusual is that Perry has stepped out of his own self-created universe and made himself available for a project put together by others. Few in Hollywood have failed to notice the Tyler Perry magic touch, not least since he puts his name on everything he has a hand in.

So it was likely sooner or later that Perry would throw his hat in the ring for a shot at wider Hollywood stardom.

Well, that didn’t happen. Alex Cross, which tanked Stateside, is a spotty, ill-constructed reboot of the old Morgan Freeman franchise. Kiss The Girls was a very nifty opener, Along Came A Spider much less interesting, but nothing explains why the series has been fired up again. Perry is more often seen in grandma-drag as his most famous creation, nightmare-busybody Madea, so it’s like seeing Danny La Rue or some terrifying panto dame playing cop show. Amid the un-excitement and non-thrills, all we get is evidence that Matthew Fox, the movie’s only surprise, might one day have a nice future playing evil serial killers.

Big surprise: Alex Cross sucks. But there’s a wider problem with Perry in Hollywood. He is sucking all of the air out of the African-American conversation. Lazy and racist white studio execs automatically think that if Tyler Perry has a magic formula for emptying black ticket-buyers’ wallets, then that game is covered. One hears rumours of ambitious and intelligent projects by black film-makers and writers being shot down in flames three minutes into a pitch with a sentence beginning, “But Tyler Perry…”

Exactly. But Tyler Perry. Black cinema needs a new emperor-mogul.

  1. year: 2012
  2. Country: USA
  3. Cert (UK): 15
  4. Runtime: 101 mins
  5. Directors: Rob Cohen
  6. Cast: Cicely Tyson, Edward Burns, Giancarlo Esposito, Jean Reno, John C McGinley, Matthew Fox, Rachel Nichols, Rob Cohen, Tyler Perry
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