Code Name: The Cleaner

Annabel Reyes/New Line Productions
Les Mayfield/United States 2007

Everyone knows that when a film hits the theaters without being prescreened for critics it means that the studio has a wreck of a film that it hopes to sneak quietly into and out of the theaters, making back what money it can. What does it mean, then, when a studio has a free, widely advertised preview screening of a film for critics and the public alike, only to have the theater end up half empty? At best, it means that expectations for the film are underwhelming. At worst, it means that John Q. Public knows something that even the studio fails to realize: the film being screened is clearly a waste of time and money.

Needless to say, just two days before the film’s general release, the preview screening for Code Name: The Cleaner was a veritable wasteland. The theater was devoid of any sense of expectation or excitement and, perhaps most importantly, devoid of interested viewers. Worse still, Cedric the Entertainer’s most recent film venture gave the audience that did bother to show up nothing to upset general expectations.

The premise is simple. Jake (Cedric the Entertainer), wakes up one morning in a fancy hotel. Next to him, on the bed, lies a dead man. This man, Jake quickly learns, is more than just any man. He is an FBI agent. Covered in blood, and with a briefcase full of money found at the scene, Jake flees and attempts to piece together the details of a life that he cannot remember. Two women claim to know him – his supposed wife (Nicollette Sheridan) and his supposed girlfriend (Lucy Liu). Each tells Jake different story of his life, even as he slowly begins remembering tidbits from his past. Before long, Jake is convinced that he is an undercover agent involved in uncovering a plot at the video game development company where he ostensibly works. To him, it seems the only logical explanation for his day job as a janitor and his nickname, “The Cleaner”.

The trifling plot, however, serves only to connect the frequent scenes designed to give Cedric the Entertainer play time in front of the camera. Were these scenes funny, it might be easier to accept the shoddy construction of the film, but Cedric the Entertainer’s humor has never translated well to the screen – big or small. His attempts at comedy in Code Name: The Cleaner come off as awkward and contrived as anything he’s ever done. As a result, so does the already banal film built around it.

The film’s only bright spots, though few, come exclusively from one of Jake’s janitor buddies, Ronnie (DeRay Davis), whose dream of becoming a “clean” rapper and unique style and technique are just over-the-top enough to elicit laughter. Surrounded by so much mediocrity, however, even these moments will prove unmemorable.

Of course, this review is an exercise in self-indulgence, as well. Mere weeks after its original release, Code Name: The Cleaner is all but gone from theaters. In fact, to see it as of this writing, one would have to trek to one of the handful of the New York and Los Angeles neighborhoods where it’s still playing and whose names get bandied about when white men in suits discuss places that they wouldn’t be caught dead after dark. This exercise in theater programming, targeted marketing, and faith in the fact that if rubbish doesn’t sell anywhere else, it’ll sell in the neighborhoods that suits never brave, sounds like more brilliant thinking from the people responsible for green-lighting Code Name: The Cleaner and giving the world another film from the man who helmed such gems as Encino Man and the 1997 remake of Flubber.

© 2007 Neal Solon. All rights reserved.

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