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"CODE NAME: THE CLEANER"
(2007) (Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After waking up next to a dead FBI agent, a man suffering from amnesia tries to figure out if he's just a janitor or really an undercover spy with whom a variety of people are interested.
PLOT:
Jake Rodgers (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER) has just awakened to find himself next to a dead FBI agent and a briefcase full of cash. Unable to remember his name, but experiencing scant flashbacks of what appear to be covert military operations, Jake flees the scene, only to run into Diane (NICOLLETTE SHERIDAN) who claims to be his wife and returns him to their wealthy lifestyle.

When he overhears that she's really looking for a computer chip -- for Digital Arts executive Eric Hauck (MARK DACASCOS) -- and will go to extreme measures to get that info from him, Jake takes off. He then encounters waitress Gina (LUCY LIU) who acts like his girlfriend who tries to dispel his notions of being some sort of secret agent, telling him he's just an ordinary janitor, working alongside wannabe rapper Ronnie (DeRAY DAVIS).

With FBI agent Shaw (CALLUM KEITH RENNIE) wanting to find him and nebulous contact Riley (WILL PATTON) also interested in the missing computer chip, Jake must figure out his real identity, who to trust, and what they want with that hardware.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
If December, as Andy Williams once sang, is indeed "the most wonderful time of the year," that obviously implies that other months are less so. That's certainly true for the Hollywood calendar year where the twelfth month usually delivers most of the better artistic films as compared to the other eleven.

Nevertheless, and in keeping with most everyone making some sort of New Year's resolution or another, mine was -- as in years past -- not to be quite so critical of the rest of what filmdom has to offer. I use the past tense since just two films in the first three days of the new year have already broken my will. The first was "Happily N'Ever After," a dismal computer-animated offering that, after having just seen "Code Name: The Cleaner," doesn't look quite as bad, at least in comparison.

Of course, considering the track record of director Les Mayfield ("The Man," "Blue Streak," "Encino Man"), that probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Mentioned in the press notes as a comedic version of "The Bourne Identity" -- where a supposed secret agent awakens with amnesia and must figure out who he is and what others want with him -- the film doesn't work on any level.

That is, beyond wasting an hour and a half of anyone's life who's foolish enough to sit down in front of it. Working from that amnesia premise, the jokes are supposed to stem from watching Cedric the Entertainer play the possible undercover spy who's suddenly thrust into foreign lifestyles he doesn't believe or accept.

One is being the rich husband to Nicollette Sheridan's voluptuous wife, where Mayfield and screenwriters Robert Adetuyi and George Gallo think they're going to get us to laugh at seeing Cedric's reaction to Sheridan doing a sexy dance in some next to nothing unmentionables, or in ordering Skittles from the stereotypically prim and proper butler.

Another suggests he's the boyfriend to Lucy Liu's saucy waitress, a woman who says he's just a janitor rather than a spy and thus calls him names such as "Broom Raider," while he replies, "I was like James Bond on Red Bull." If you think that's funny, well, more power to you, but that's about the height of hilarity, except for having a briefly seen miscellaneous character's name be Jacuzzi, or a janitor who wants to be a rapper whose specialty is scatological material.

While obviously none of that's meant to be taken seriously, the filmmakers nevertheless repeatedly offer brief flashbacks showing us Cedric as some sort of military special op, supposedly to intrigue us about who and what he really is. The problem is that we simply don't care, thanks to the lame direction, insipid writing and Cedric's mediocre at best performance (even the so-called punch line regarding those flashbacks falls flat).

Perhaps sensing that, the filmmakers resort to an action-filled ending in hopes of spicing things up a bit, but even that fails miserably. "Brotherhood of the Wolf's" Mark Dacascos is cast as the heavy, but apparently only because of his martial arts background. Yet, he doesn't get to display many of his skills beyond what's usually found in this sort of action-comedy, while costar and once promising character actor Will Patton is completely wasted as the secretive contact character.

Constantly feeling like the same sort of lame project Martin Lawrence would have starred in years ago, the film is a boring mess that makes its meager 90-some minute runtime feel like an eternity. Which is how 2007 might start to seem if the movies don't get any better than what's been offered up so far.

Considering its main character is a janitor, "Code Name: The Cleaner" needs to be taken out with the rest of the trash and disposed of properly so that any of its insipidness doesn't leach out onto any future projects. The film rates as a 1 out of 10, only because there's still plenty of time in the year for worse offerings to come along and thus further spoil my resolution.




Reviewed January 3, 2007 / Posted January 5, 2007


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