It's generally assumed that in order to qualify as an actual movie, anything projected up on screen in a theater must contain some sort of logical plot structure. Or barring that, it would be nice if whatever it you're watching at least attempts one. Code Name: The Cleaner does not, so I'm wary of even labeling it an actual movie. It's more like a bunch of small disasters, collected together and fed to Cedric the Entertainer.
"Spy's gotta eat!" says Cedric throughout the film, and his appetite for crap is insatiable. The Entertainer has been great in smaller supporting roles, his voice work in Charlotte's Web is perfect and he's one of the best things about Be Cool. But he seems to go out of his way to pick the worst films possible when it comes to playing leads. The Cleaner may be his worst starring movie yet, quite an accomplishment when you consider that he's made pics like The Honeymooners and The Johnson Family Vacation.
What makes it worse than all the rest isn't just that it's not funny. It isn't, except in small stretches where Cedric starts rambling incoherently. That's funny, though maybe not for the reasons it's supposed to be. It's not just because it's a backward Bourne Identity knockoff either. Granted, the whole memory loss thing has literally been done to death in comedy. It was old back when Dana Carvey did it (and better) in Clean Slate. No it's worse because it just doesn't make any sense. The film is a structural disaster, the kind of movie where characters behave the way they do just because the script calls for it, and not because it's part of their personality or even because the plot demands it.
There's a point in Code Name: The Cleaner where the story becomes so completely random that it literally made me dizzy. My vision clouded and I started to drift slowly forward and out of my seat. I was saved only by the realization that I'd better stop trying to follow what was happening. The strain of doing so was too much to take. The only way to make it through The Cleaner (barring a blindfold) is to go completely cross-eyed while watching the screen, and from there on out that's what I did.
The real structural low point comes towards the end of the film, when Kung Fu dude Mark Dacascos has his big fight scene. Dacascos is probably best known to Americans as the guy from Kitchen Stadium, but in addition to being a great fake cook, he's also excellent at kicking people in the face. He's barely in the movie, but somewhere towards the end director Les Mayfield remembers that he has a guy who knows karate chops and starts looking for a way to use him. He can't find one, so in the middle of a hallway two of Dacascos' own henchman walk up to him. For no reason I can determine, he kicks the shit out of them. They're his security guards, and he fights them. They haven't done anything wrong, they aren't being punished for some mistake. There's no reason for it, he just beats them up because Mayfield wanted us to watch him do Kung Fu. Worse, it's not the only scene of its kind in the film. It's just the worst example. Every second of The Cleaner drips with incomprehensible, completely illogical behavior like this.
The only thing that saves the script is that the idea behind it is such a blatant rip off of other ideas, that even if the individual scenes within the film make no sense, you're able to follow the overall plot of the film because you've seen it before. Cedric plays a guy with memory loss, who wakes up next to a dead body and starts to believe he's a spy. The gag is that he's not a spy, he's a janitor and most of the film is spent with Cedric trying to convince himself he's more than a guy with the mop. Somehow Lucy Liu gets involved (please don't ask me to explain how) and they end up fighting Nicolette Sheridan.
It's January, so you expect this kind of crap in theaters. Code Name: The Cleaner probably won't end up as the worst movie of the year, but it's every bit as bad as anyone with any sense would expect it to be from the trailers. Now that he's collected this paycheck, Cedric will get back to supporting roles. It's where he belongs, and in the future I hope he stays there.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler
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