“Alex Cross” (PG-13): This film’s PG-13 rating is bizarre. It is far too graphic and violent for middle schoolers, and even high schoolers may have to look away at times, though perhaps they’ll get interested in the cops-vs.-psychopath story. They’ll have to overlook the thuddingly corny script. Nor does a strong supporting cast save “Alex Cross” from the fatal miscasting of Tyler Perry in the title role as a brilliant Detroit homicide detective and criminal psychologist. “Alex Cross” is based on the novel “Cross” by James Patterson, whose series of books also inspired two earlier films starring Morgan Freeman as the detective at a later stage in his career – “Kiss the Girls” (R, 1997) and “Along Came A Spider” (R, 2001). Perry lacks the acting chops to embody such a complex character. In this story, Cross learns his wife (Carmen Ejogo) is pregnant again. He’s thinking of taking his Ph.D. to the FBI, where the pay will be higher and the hours better. Meanwhile, he and his partner Tommy (Edward Burns) investigate a gruesome multiple murder at a gangster’s mansion. The cops quickly home in on a tattooed and sinewy assassin-psychopath (Matthew Fox of TV’s “Lost”) nicknamed Picasso because he leaves sketches at his crime scenes. Eager to checkmate Alex Cross, Picasso brings tragedy down on the detective. Cross and Tommy resolve to get vengeance and justice.
It is nothing short of amazing that “Alex Cross” has a PG-13 rating. It includes scenes of strongly implied torture, including the severing of a victim’s fingers, and then later, use of her severed thumb to open a fingerprint-sensitive vault. A kinky though nongraphic sexual situation revolves around sadomasochism and turns lethal. The multiple murders are shown in a flashback with point-blank shootings. They are violent, if not hugely bloody. The film includes thunderous shootouts, car chases, and explosions. The dialogue includes occasional mild-to-midrange profanity.
“Taken 2” (PG-13): This time it’s former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who are abducted by Albanian criminals, and their 20-ish daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who must help rescue them. High schoolers will delight in her bravery, but the gunplay and scenes of strongly implied, though nongraphic, torture may be too intense for middle schoolers. This sequel to “Taken” (PG-13, 2008; released in 2009 in the U.S.) maintains the original’s fast-paced formula so breathlessly, you can’t help but giggle. Though he’s chained and held incommunicado when first taken, Bryan has skills and micro-gadgetry, so he can direct Kim’s actions as the thriller unfolds in the back alleys of Istanbul. At the beginning, we learn that the father (Rade Serbedzija) of one of the thugs Bryan killed three years ago in Europe wants revenge. Back in Los Angeles, Bryan, ever the controlling parent, has been secretly checking out Jamie’s new boyfriend (Luke Grimes). Only after mother and daughter surprise him in Istanbul, where he’s had a freelance job, do the bad guys close in.
The mayhem features much plaster-shattering gunplay, but with little blood. Bryan kills several people with his bare hands and the fights are intense. The dialogue includes occasional mild profanity. Bryan makes reference to the fact that the young Albanian men he killed in the first film were kidnapping Kim and other girls to sell into prostitution. Kim faces mortal danger and her mother is hurt.
“Here Comes The Boom” (PG): “Here Comes the Boom” is a painfully weak and predictable “family” comedy that goes for every boneheaded gag and bad-teacher stereotype. Even so, kids 10 and older – especially wrestling and mixed martial-arts fans – will have fun watching star Kevin James get slammed around and seeing real wrestling stars in cameos. Scott (James) is a burned-out high-school biology teacher. He learns that the music program will shut down for lack of funds, and that Marty (Henry Winkler), the mild-mannered music teacher, will lose his job. Scott feels a surge of his old idealism and blurts out an offer to raise money to save the program.
There is major mayhem in the fight cages and some of it looks painful. Scott projectile vomits while in the ring after eating bad apple sauce. There’s discussion about Marty’s 48-year-old wife getting pregnant. The film features mildly crude language, mild sexual innuendo and comic stereotypes of immigrants.