Reel Critics: 'Paranormal' tricks and treats

The essence of enjoying a scary movie is that we can hit our target heart rate while enjoying large quantities of snacks. Cardio and candy — a win-win.

I was predisposed to find "Paranormal Activity 4" a total waste of time, aside from my beloved Junior Mints. Happily, it managed to consistently keep up the tension with very little bloodshed.

Thanks to smart phones, Skype and Xbox, we get caught up in the life of teenage Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her friend Ben (Matt Shively) and their take on events when a stranded neighbor boy (Brady Allen) starts hanging out at her home.

What's noteworthy about the "P.A." stories is the slow build, punctuated by well-timed fake-outs and nervous humor, into the genuinely chilling stuff. There is no soundtrack to warn us of what's to come, just a curious low humming that sets you on edge more than the mysterious things that go bump (or airborne) in the night.

The story doesn't bear close scrutiny, questions go unanswered, but you're still a wreck from the anticipation.

When the activity went seriously paranormal in the final five minutes, there were goose bumps and a fear I hadn't felt since "PA3." Rarest of all — I forgot to eat my chocolates.

Maybe I'll save them for "PA5."


'Cross' a bloody mix of emotions

Tyler Perry made a fortune with his character in drag in the "Madea" franchise. They are part of his long B-movie series featuring broad comedy with sentimental dramatic touches. He abandons this former acting persona in "Alex Cross" to play a tough-minded cop working the mean streets of Detroit.

Based on the novels of James Patterson, Cross is a detective who also has a doctorate in psychology. This makes him a prime cinema candidate to deal with a psycho serial killer stalking prominent residents of the motor city. Matthew Fox plays the demented assassin who has the operational skills of James Bond.

Edward Burns plays the cop who partners with Cross to track down the bad guy. They go through routine police procedure as they uncover predictable clues that lead to the killer. Perry clearly wants to step up his acting game to include serious dramatic roles. But this film is a strange mix of casual cruelty and grim torture combined with emotional family connections. In the end, it's a bloody revenge saga with little redeeming social value for a general audience.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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