Possible transcript-excerpt of producers’ meeting for Code Name: The Cleaner: “I agree, Cedric the Entertainer is the funniest person in existence. Surrounding him with a bunch of stuffy white people who seem both alarmed and intrigued by his ‘black guy’ behavior is a fabulous idea. And furthermore, I submit that any plotline that doesn’t lead to Cedric karate-chopping the air is extraneous. In summation, I am casually racist.”
Some permutation of the above dialogue had to come out of somebody’s mouth, or else this film would never have been made. Some person had to truly believe that Cedric the Entertainer is a brilliant satirist, and not a cringe-inducing minstrel puppet. That same person would have also had faith that a mostly white supporting cast, plucked directly out of a Marx Brothers movie, would make perfect foils for the main character’s “urban” comic appeal. And finally, this visionary would have had to feel comfortable with a script that reads like a Decod-R-Ring message, and stale race jokes that would make Uncle Ben barf up his rice. It must have happened that way, because it takes a lot of help to complete a movie nowadays. One of the higher-ups had to really be pushing for it. It could not have been Satan alone.
Upon seeing the previews for Code Name: The Cleaner, I became anxious to see the actual film. It’s like hearing that the guy who slept with your girlfriend is coming to your party; you desperately want him to give you a reason. Well fear not, folks, because this film most certainly gives us a reason. We open with Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer, loosely) waking up in a hotel bed, with someone he presumes is a woman, but turns out to be a dead federal agent. Of course, he does not look over to see if the body is that of a woman, but rather lets his fingers do the walking. Obviously, he learned nothing from Clint Eastwood and that ape. After that hilarious bit, Jake realizes that he has no recollection of how he got there, what he has been doing, or even who he is. He has amnesia, brought on by what appears to be a cut on his ear. What he does know is that he might be guilty of murder, and there is a briefcase with $250,000 in cash sitting next to him.
The first person he runs into while fleeing is a supposedly sexy woman named Diane (Nicolette Sheridan), who claims to be his wife. He explains the situation to her, and she offers to take him home and help jog his memory. He trusts her without hesitation, because of this assumed attractiveness she possesses. I personally feel she looks like a swamp witch, but the filmmakers politely remind us that an African-American male can do nothing to resist a Caucasian female, no matter what she looks like. So Diane drives Jake to a mansion she claims is theirs, and predictably, he asks the question: “So this is mine right here?” thirty times. He also asks his too-butlery butler for a Jet magazine, and smacks him for trying to take his bags. Jake may not know who he is, but he knows he must act like a poor person in a rich guy’s house.
After a failed seduction by Diane, Jake finds out that she is not really his wife (which by this time was obvious to my dachshund) and that she is trying to get information from him. He escapes, and goes back to the hotel in costume to get more information. His costume? Leiderhosen and clogs, outfitted for the all-white “Tulip Tour.” The scene that follows begins with the worst comedy line I’ve ever heard: “Haven’t you ever heard of Dutch Chocolate?” and ends with the worst sight gag I’ve ever seen (Cedric the Entertainer break-dancing to polka music). This means that I will have to remove both my eyes and ears. Luckily, this sequence did not harm my sense of taste.
Jake finds out some information about a microchip that agents are after him for, and that, coupled with his repeated flashbacks of special ops combat, lead him to believe he is a spy. As he struggles to remember, he meets Gina (Lucy Liu), a diner waitress who also claims to be his “boo” (yes, she says it). She also claims that Jake is not a spy, as he attests, but rather, a janitor working for a video game distributor. When he refuses to believe he is nothing but a “cleaner,” she introduces him to a co-worker (De-Ray Davis) who manages to be a more frightfully ignorant black stereotype than Jake himself. The “Ronnie” character seems as though D.W. Griffith created him, provided the director had been reanimated and given a short lesson on rap culture. The fact that he and Jake are played for white laughter is a testament to the casual racism throughout this industry, and though they are not meant to be taken seriously, the implied message is still bile-loosening.
As is the unfolding of Code Name: The Cleaner’s plot. Essentially, we find out that Jake is actually embroiled in some crazy espionage, that corrupt federal agents are involved, and that no one is who they seem to be. That may sound exciting, but the execution prevents it from ever being so. The “mystery” plays out like a four-piece puzzle, and after you have figured out everything, all you’re left with are action sequences more boring than Howard’s End, which I believe had a decent gondola chase in it. The final fight scene is not only poorly choreographed, but also happens to be insulting to Asians. Lucy Liu does karate for no reason, and so does the main villain (Mark Dacoscos, of “Iron Chef America”), even though neither has displayed any hint of that talent previously. Of course, Cedric the Entertainer’s signature “hi-ya” crap is rendered useless by this point, and he runs away from the fight, screaming “We gon’ die!” This kind of tact and subtlety hasn’t been attempted since Al Jolson was carried off by demons.
I’d love to say a comedy this atrocious only comes along once in a decade, but I’m sure four of them just premiered while I’ve been writing. The problem with this film specifically, and not the larger social problems surrounding it, is that the script is simplistic and just not funny. There are more laughs at a cat funeral. In fact, a cat funeral might as well be the setting for Code Name: The Cleaner, because with Cedric the Entertainer involved and the jokes he brings with him to every movie, the plot is just background noise. So, too, are normally decent actors like Liu and Will Patton, who plays a game developer. The combination of racially denigrating screenplay with racially denigrating actor Cedric creates the perfect catalyst for non-televised revolution.
The DVD of Code Name: The Cleaner is merciful in that I didn’t have to sit through a lot more crap to be completely done with it. In fact, there is nearly nothing to speak of. Sure, we get Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, English and Spanish subtitles, and widescreen, but that is almost it. The rest is barely worth mentioning, although in order to fill my word-count quota, I will do so anyway.
There is a behind-the-scenes featurette, entitled “Moppin’ Up With the Cleaning Crew” which runs at a needless twenty minutes and has nothing to offer that popsicle stick cut-outs couldn’t provide. Everyone in the cast talks about how talented Cedric the Entertainer is, which reminds me of what they used to say about O.J. Simpson when he was acting. For the record, I don’t believe anything bad should happen to Cedric just because he keeps trying to ruin film comedy. I don’t think he should die or anything. Rather, I feel that he should be made to wander the earth alone for a thousand years after his terrible humor has killed all other human life. Director Les Mayfield, who doesn’t even contribute a commentary track on this DVD, looks as though he is trying to hide his contempt. Though I’m sure he hasn’t quite made Schindler’s List either.
On the disc, there are also previews for similar “black” films, including a 50 Cent documentary and the Anthony Anderson comedy King’s Ransom. This does not help at all to dissuade the notion that the whole genre is a giant Anglo-conspiracy.
Finally, there is an extended theatrical trailer, which gives away everything about the film, from the obvious plot to the obvious jokes. Example: Jake encounters a sassy gate operator (Niecy Nash) as he tries to break into the compound, and in between finger-snaps and head bobs, she informs him that her name is “Jacuzzi.” Right, right. Their names are crazy. That’s what jokes like that do; allow us to view African-Americans as “them.” Good work, Cedric. Thanks to your film, we are now firmly back in the Stepin Fetchit days.