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Code Name: The Cleaner Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/07/2007

The Synopsis:

Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer) is a man who has just awoken in the Pacific Crest Hotel to find himself in bed with no name and no memory as to why he is in bed with a dead FBI agent (Kurt Max Runte) and a briefcase filled with $250,000 in cash.  He decides to book it out of there with the briefcase.  A woman named Diane (Nicollette Sheridan)…who says that she is his wife…confronts him before he makes it out of the hotel.  According to her, Jake is fabulously wealthy with a butler (Robert Clarke) who waits on him hand and foot.  She calls in Doctor Soames (Kevin McNulty) to check Jake out to find out why he has the amnesia.  During a nap, Jake begins to have flashbacks of a covert military operation to capture a drug lord (Kimani Ray Smith.)  Soames suggests that “arousal” may trigger Jake’s memory, so we get the gratuitous Sheridan lingerie scene.  When that fails, she talks again to Soames about administering some sodium pentothal (truth serum) to find out information about the X-1 computer chip that her boss, Digital Arts Research & Technology (D.A.R.T.) executive Eric Hauck (Mark Dacascos), wants…but that the drug may stop Jake’s heart.  Jake overhears this and manages to escape, and he then comes across waitress Gina (Lucy Liu)…his supposed girlfriend who tells him that he is just a janitor who works in D.A.R.T with aspiring “dirty-clean” rapper Ronnie (DeRay Davis.)  Jake still thinks that he is a secret agent with the CIA though, and Gina tries to help him.  Meanwhile, rogue FBI agent Richard Shaw (Callum Keith Rennie) is trying to find him, along with FBI boss Martin Crane (Tom Butler), who is possibly dirty as well.  Jake looks for his only contact…a D.A.R.T. researcher named Riley (Will Patton)…to find out some answers about whom he really is and why he ended up in this mess.

The Review:

I never expect the first official movie of the year to be great, but I was really hoping that Code Name: The Cleaner would buck the trend.  I guess we are looking forward to a long 2007.

Cedric the Entertainer can be funny, but there is just something stupid about some of his live action movies.  I will admit that I have yet to see 2004’s Johnson Family Vacation or 2005’s Man of the House and The Honeymooners, but they seem to be clunkers box office-wise.  He has had better success on TV (the WB’s “The Steve Harvey Show,” FOX’s “Cedric the Entertainer Presents”), and as a supporting character (the Barbershop movies, 2000’s Big Momma’s House, 2004’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), but not as the headliner in his own movies.  Heck, he would do well just doing vocal performances (2001’s Dr. Doolittle 2, 2002’s Ice Age, 2005’s Madagascar, last year’s Charlotte’s Web) and stop trying to make a name as a live action performer.

Part of the problem is that he is not convincing as an action star.  This is supposed to be an action comedy (something I could tell from the movie trailer), but his attempts at “fighting” are wholly unconvincing.  I was a little curious about the military flashbacks, because they made him look like he could pull off the action, but the fact that it was dimly lit and that he was obviously using a stunt double confirmed the fact that he should avoid action in the future.

That’s not saying that he doesn’t have his funny moments.  Aside from a silly moment in the middle where he pretends to be a Dutch clog dancer, most of the funniest moments are in the outtakes during the closing credits.

The other notable characters played by Sheridan, Liu, and Dacascos are all wasted.  Okay…maybe Sheridan wasn’t wasted in the fact that she got to do what she does best…prance around in skimpy outfits for the purpose of seduction (since she does that almost every time she is on camera on her ABC show “Desperate Housewives”), but the others aren’t given the chance to fully use their talents.  Liu kicked butt in the two Charlie’s Angels movies, 2000’s Shanghai Noon, 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, and even the 2002 box office bomb Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.  In this movie, she seemed to end up being overpowered by her opponents, which made her look like a wuss.  She also didn’t get to show off her comedy chops.  The woman who earned an Emmy Award nomination for her performance in FOX’s “Ally McBeal” and turned in a memorable performance in last year’s Lucky Number Slevin is not funny in the slightest here.  Dacascos played the clichéd bad guy, which was fine…except that he wasn’t threatening or evil enough.  The man who did some sweet moves in 2002’s Brotherhood of the Wolf didn’t convince me that he could fight.  When Cedric can easily defeat him with his janitorial equipment…reality begins to fly out the window.

Cedric wasn’t they only person who was responsible for the funnier moments.  Davis and Niecy Nash (both from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911”) pull off some funny lines in their short cameo roles.  In fact, Nash, as a front gate security guard for D.A.R.T., pulled off the funniest line in the movie involving Liu’s character during the outtakes (I’ll let you hear it for yourself.)

Director Les Mayfield has managed to be successful with action comedy with 1999’s Blue Streak, so it’s possible he may be able to pull it off again successfully someday.  With 2005’s box office bomb The Man and now Code Name: The Cleaner, he has yet to repeat that formula.  I will say that doing a comedic version of 2002’s The Bourne Identity was a good idea, but he just didn’t pull it off right.


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