Code Name: The Cleaner (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It is accepted practice that a comedy, even the most outrageous one, must have some sort of skeletal plot structure. Most of these are nonsense and sometimes impede the viewer's ability to enjoy the film's humorous antics. Such is the case with Code Name: The Cleaner, a vehicle for Cedric the Entertainer that takes its amnesia/secret agent plotline so seriously that there are times when the laughter disappears for long stretches (until the screenplay remembers the movie is supposed to be funny and lets Cedric loose). The problem is, while the thriller aspects of the movie are serviceable, they aren't good enough to form the basis of anything more serious than a sit-com, and by spending as much time on them as Code Name: The Cleaner does, it makes the film at times seem drawn-out and tedious.

From past experience, viewers know that Cedric the Entertainer can be very funny. While there are times when Code Name: The Cleaner highlights his comedic abilities, there aren't enough of them for the movie to rise above late-night cable fare (at best). Cedric's highlight reel from this movie is maybe about ten minutes long. That means there's well over an hour of filler. At times, the movie has aspirations of straying into genuine thriller territory, but it's missing a few key ingredients like credibility and tension. It's like a bad episode of the old TV series Get Smart. However, it does answer a less-than-pressing question: what if The Bourne Identity was turned into a sit-com?

When Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer) awakens on a bed in a hotel room, he has no memory of how he got there, whose dead body is lying next to him, or even who he is. He flees the hotel, although not before taking a briefcase full of money, and finds the area around the hotel to be crawling with cops. A striking blond named Diane (Nicolette Sheridan), who claims to be his wife, takes him "home" and begins doing everything in her power to revive his memory. Apparently, he has knowledge of the location of a valuable microchip and a lot of people want to know where it is. Feeling that his "wife" may not be trustworthy, Jake escapes her clutches and seeks out Gina (Lucy Liu), who may or may not have been Jake's girlfriend. She's not to happy to see him and even less happy that he doesn't remember who she is, but she agrees to help him. Meanwhile, Diane's accomplice is revealed to be a federal agent (Callum Keith Rennie) and both of them work for the CEO of a video game company, Eric Hauck (Mark Dacascos). With all the chasing that's going on, Jake begins to wonder whether he's a secret agent and whether his amnesia is the result of something that happened to him on a mission.

There's only so much that a high-profile comedian can bring to a movie like this, and there's no doubt that Cedric the Entertainer gives it a game try. As always, however, it's the director and screenwriters who control where things are going, and Cedric doesn't get much help from them. The script is sophomoric and the director has the kind of track record an established actor should be wary of. Les Mayfield has been at the helm for such timeless classics as Encino Man, Flubber, and American Outlaws. Expectations that he might make a better film with Code Name: The Cleaner are misplaced.

Lucy Liu is a nice sidekick and she works well with Cedric, but she's the only one in the cast who doesn't embarrass herself. Nicolette Sheridan is painfully bad; based on this performance, she would be well-advised to milk Desperate Housewives for as long as she can. (I remember her being funny in Noises Off, but that was eons ago.) Callum Keith Rennie manages to be as boring a bad guy as one can imagine. And - talk about strange casting - the part of the Big Bad Boss is played by Mark Dacascos. The name might not mean much to many people, but Food Network watchers will recognize him as The Chairman from Iron Chef America. One half expects to see Bobby Flay emerge from the shadows wielding a chef's knife. Allez cuisine!

I must admit there are far worse comedies out there, many of which will be opening in the next eight weeks. This one is at least sporadically funny and didn't make me want to rush into the projection booth and sabotage the celluloid. It's tolerable, although no better. Cedric provides an occasional highlight while Mayfield keeps piling on the garbage. Attending with low expectations and an abiding love of Cedric the Entertainer may represent the only way this movie can be enjoyed on any level.

Code Name: The Cleaner (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2007-01-05
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1