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  • PG
  • Action, Comedy
  • 2007
  • 91 mins

Code Name: The Cleaner

Code Name: The Cleaner

Synopsis

Cedric The Entertainer headlines (and co-produces) this spoof of memory-loss spy movies from Les Mayfield, the director of Flubber and The Man

About

Imagine yourself in the middle of a crime scene, with no idea of who you are or how you got there, and with a whole world of trouble closing in on you. It could be a scenario taken from any number of amnesiac thrillers - Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987), Suture (1993), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Memento (2000), Mulholland Dr. (2001), The Bourne Identity (2002), Unknown (2006) - not to mention brain-twisting SF variants like Total Recall (1990), Resident Evil (2002) or Cypher (2002).

In its way, Code Name: The Cleaner evokes all these films, but its unlikely identity-challenged hero is a hulking, rotund black man played by comedian Cedric the Entertainer, and he intends to run riot through all the tropes of the who-am-I subgenre.

Jake Rodgers (Cedric) wakes up in a hotel bed with a nasty bump on his head, a dead FBI agent by his side, and a briefcase full of cash at his feet. Beautiful blonde Diane (Sheridan) takes him 'home' to a luxury mansion in the Seattle hills, but is she really, as she claims, his wife? If Jake is really just a cleaner at the video game company run by Eric Hauck (Dacascos), as waitress Gina (Liu) and janitor Ronnie (Davis) insist, why does he keep having flashbacks in which he leads a crack squad of commandos on a dangerous assault mission? Why is an agent (Rennie) doggedly pursuing him? What and where is the computer chip that everyone seems so desperate to get their hands on?

Like its hero, Code Name: The Cleaner suffers from something of an identity crisis. It is too clumsy to be the sophisticated parody of memory-loss films it might have been, too bland for its action sequences to kick any ass, too dumbed-down to make much out of the clashes of race, class and gender at the heart of its fish-out-of-water comedy - and these three elements are never made to gel convincingly. This film has a lot to learn from the likes of Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

There are flashes of inspiration: on learning that he has wealth, a mansion and a white wife, Jake wonders aloud if he might in fact be Lionel Richie; a man signaling cryptically to Jake turns out just to be propositioning him sexually; a janitor sees being menaced with a gun as an opportunity to gain credibility for his would-be career side-line as a rapper.

Set adrift, however, in a sea of disposable gags, aimless clowning, shameless racial stereotyping and gratuitous homophobia, these occasional moments of hilarity seem more a consequence of accident than design. This is fish-in-a-barrel stuff, with just about everything getting hooked but the viewer.

Cedric The Entertainer may be a talented comic, but he is hampered by a leaden script and by a complete inability to match his one-note acting range to his supposedly multi-faceted character. He is propped up by a pair of actresses of whose "fine-ass" qualities the screenplay is at tedious pains to remind us - but any energy in the plotting is quickly sucked up by their flat on-screen presence. Liu in particular, who also starred in Vincenzo Natali's infinitely superior identity nightmare Cypher, ought to know better than to slum it in such predictable, unfunny trash as this.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Lucy Liu, Will Patton, Nicollette Sheridan, Mark Dacascos, Callum Keith Rennie, Kevin McNulty, Niecy Nash, DeRay Davis
  • Director: Les Mayfield
  • Screen Writer: George Gallo, Robert Adetuyi
  • Producer: Eric Rhone, Brett Ratner, Jay Stern
  • Photographer: David Franco
  • Composer: George S Clinton

In a nutshell

Once this amnesiac action comedy is over, you'll be wishing you could forget it.

by Anton Bitel

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