Code Name: The Cleaner

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This review was written for the theatrical screening of "Code Name: The Cleaner." 

"Code Name: The Cleaner" borrows the gimmick of the successful thriller "The Bourne Identity" of an amnesia victim gradually realizing he might be an undercover agent and tailors this for the so-dumb-it's-almost-smart clowning of comic Cedric the Entertainer. A much better title would be "Bourne Yesterday." The clunky title New Line has burdened the comedy with can't help at the boxoffice, but Cedric the Entertainer fans won't mind. The film isn't exactly an outreach program for nonfans, but the suspense/thriller element should attract enough for a modestly successful payoff.

The movie, written by Robert Adetuyi and George Gallo and directed by Les Mayfield, hangs on a single quandary: Is its hero a superspy with dazzling skills or a janitor, to which most of the evidence points? The guy himself -- this would be Cedric -- is clueless when he wakes up in a high-rise hotel room with a nasty bump on the head, a dead FBI agent beside him in bed, a briefcase containing $250,000 in cash and no memory of anything, including his own identity. He is just smart enough to take the briefcase but leave the dead agent.

As police descend on the hotel, a statuesque blonde (Nicollette Sheridan) accosts him in the lobby and insists she is his wife. She drives him to "his" palatial mansion with its sports cars, butler and lingerie she insists on modeling for him, but somehow none of this fits his still-elusive identity. He escapes moments before she tries to drug him.

The guy then walks into a diner where an alluring waitress (Lucy Liu) claims to be his girlfriend. Whoever this guy is, he's doing OK in the woman department. Just as he is coming to believe from clues that he must be an undercover agent with the code name "The Cleaner," the waitress bursts his bubble by informing him that he works as a janitor for a video game manufacturer.

But what to make of his flashbacks to a war zone where he leads a company of Special Forces into combat and everyone calls him "Colonel"? Or the repressed memory of a payoff gone wrong? Or the fact that everyone in town wants him dead? No, the guy insists, he must be an agent with the clever cover of a janitor.

This implausible plot full of holes does pave the way for a series of Cedric the Entertainer skits and physical gags, like his posing as a member of a Dutch dance troupe, wooden shoes and all, to gain re-entry to the scene of the crime. None of these is very funny. A few are painfully unfunny. In either case, the movie comes to a standstill. It's a pity no one thought to screen old Bob Hope movies to see how to integrate comedy into genre filmmaking.

The filmmakers surround Cedric the Entertainer with a host of straight men, including martial artist/actor Mark Dacascos as the polished villain, Will Patton as a buddy who tells him to trust no one, Callum Keith Rennie as a crooked FBI agent and comedian DeRay Davis as a janitor-cum-rapper to act as a counterbalance to the star's humor. Liu and Sheridan give the film glamour, but their catfight falls flat. Niecy Nash has the movie's funniest line, which comes during outtakes shown at the end credits.

The behind-the-camera effort in Vancouver is surprisingly good.

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