Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Welcome back, Renny Harlin.

After spending much of the past decade in B-movie purgatory ("The Covenant," "Mindhunters"), the "Die Hard 2" director returns to form with "Cleaner," a neatly contained crime whodunit with a nifty setup and an expert lead performance from Samuel L. Jackson.

Premiering as a Gala presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Sony Pictures release could make a tidy showing at the boxoffice, though a release date has not yet been established.

In a noir-tinted role that fits Jackson like a weather-worn glove, he plays Tom Cutler, a retired New Jersey police detective who now makes a living coming in after the cops are done at crime scenes and mopping up the left behind with his own HazMat cleaning business.

The mean streets of Trenton are filled with plenty of job opportunities for Cutler, who goes about his days methodically wiping away all the blood and other nasty-looking fluids with a special blend of disinfectants that also includes a little hit of Listerine (original flavor, only). The widower spends his evenings at home with his smart, sensitive teenage daughter, Rose (Keke Palmer).

But one of Cutler's routine calls unlocks a door to the past he thought he had left behind, bringing him back into contact with his old partner, Eddie (Ed Harris), and introducing him to the enigmatic Ann Norcut (Eva Mendes), whose husband has been officially reported missing despite the fact that Cutler had been called to her posh home the day before to deal with a particularly bloody mess.

Although Matthew Aldrich's script eventually settles into a more formulaic groove despite hinting at something fresher and edgier in those terrific first 15 minutes, the film is nevertheless a satisfying ride as Harlin piles on the viscera with evident delight.

His cast, meanwhile, plays their respective parts with equal relish.

While Jackson and Harris are well-matched verbal sparring partners, Mendes makes for an ideal contemporary femme fatale, and young Palmer makes good on the promise she showed in "Akeelah and the Bee."

There's also a pulpy playfulness in director of photography Scott Kevan's constantly probing extreme close-ups and editor Brian Berdan's smoothly executed transitions.

Sony Pictures
Nu Image/Anonymous Content
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriter: Matthew Aldrich
Producers: Avi Lerner, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Michael P. Flannigan, Lati Grobman
Executive producers: Eli Selden, Paul Green, Julie Yorn, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Joe Gatta
Director of photography: Scott Kevan
Production designer: Richard Berg
Music: Richard Gibbs
Costume designer: Susanna Puisto
Editor: Brian Berdan
Tom Cutler: Samuel L. Jackson
Eddie Lorenzo: Ed Harris
Ann Norcut: Eva Mendes
Rose Cutler: Keke Palmer
Wallace: Luis Guzman
Arlo: Robert Forster
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: R