Is Tyler Perry’s ‘Madea’ persona a drag on ‘Alex Cross’?

This film image released by Summit Entertainment shows Tyler Perry in the title role during a scene from "Alex Cross." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment)

This film image released by Summit Entertainment shows Tyler Perry in the title role during a scene from "Alex Cross." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment)

Whether you love or hate his movies, actor and director Tyler Perry seems like an incredibly sweet guy.

He donates huge sums of money to charity, he’s buddy-buddy with Oprah Winfrey and he really loves his mother.

“She loved from the purest place in her heart. The strength and power of a black woman is empowering to me,” said Perry in a recent Essence interview. Altogether now: Awww!

But this weekend, Perry hopes to add a new twist to his sweet and sensitive persona. With his new film Alex Cross he hopes to re-invent himself as a big-screen tough guy.

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He’s taken over the lead role made famous by Morgan Freeman in the hit thrillers Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Will audiences buy it, even if critics don’t?

“Perry is low-key bordering on sleepwalker dull,” writes David Germain of the Associated Press. Earlier in his review he writes, “They might as well have gone for broke and called it Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Stab at Expanding Her-His Hollywood Marketability as James Patterson’s Alex Cross.”

“The cross-dressing Madea star seems out of his depth playing the hard-boiled detective,” writes Peter DeBruge in a review for Variety, adding, “it turns out the actor’s range is more limited than expected.”

“He doesn’t have the skill that can lift a performance up, up and away from the substandard movie surrounding it, one of Mr. Freeman’s enduring, oft-tapped talent,” writes the New York Times‘ Manohlia Darghis. She argues that Perry’s performance in Alex Cross “lacks both nuance and the majestic, uncompromising wrath that makes Madea so memorable.”

The Madea references speaks volumes about Perry’s dilemma. He has become a multimedia mogul on the strength of his most famous characterization but it has become a double-edged sword.

His gun-toting loud-mouthed Madea is both his most popular and polarizing character and his image of as a comedian who routinely appears in drag has cemented itself into the popular consciousness. Sure, action vet Wesley Snipes dabbled in wearing a dress for To Wong Foo, but that was just one film. Perry has made a career out of gender bending.