It's hard to root for Cedric the Entertainer anymore. He's a funny man with a rotund, quick wit and love for sillyheart comedy, but he always finds himself tangled up in the lamest excuses for big screen merriment. "Code Name: The Cleaner" is the latest in a long string of duds for Cedric, but this misfire stands out from the pack ("The Honeymooners," "Man of the House") as the most tired of them all.
Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer) has just awoken in a posh hotel next to a dead FBI agent. Stricken with amnesia after a forceful head blow, Jake escapes with briefcase of cash and only the vague details of his life to work with. Chased by rogue agents and spousal impostors (Nicolette Sheridan), Jake finds comfort in the arms of his "boo," a waitress named Gina (Lucy Liu), who might not be all she's cracked up to be. Piecing together the reasons people want him dead, Jake uses his friends and wits to keep himself alive long enough to sort everything out.
For "The Cleaner," the producers have hired a director who has been down the action/urban comedy path before. His name is Les Mayfield, and he's one of the most blatant studio hacks around. Mayfield was also behind "Blue Streak" and "The Man," so hope for any level of quality is quickly dashed when this guy's name is attached.
Sadly, Mayfield lives up to those meager expectations and runs through the paces of "The Cleaner" like the directorial robot he is. There's no verve to any of this movie, just a series of flat-tire sequences that only occasionally connect to each other, laughable attempts to arrange nick-of-time escapes for Jake, and action that resembles cut scenes from "Walker, Texas Ranger." It looks like Mayfield has convinced himself he has a surefire formula for this material, but when splashed across the screen, it dies immediately. "The Cleaner" is as basic and routine as a PG-13 urban actioner can get, and there's only one element that could possibly save it.
With the whole comedic punch of the movie riding on his shoulders, Cedric the Entertainer isn't in an enviable position. I'll write it again: he is one hilarious performer. However, push him into a corner with an awful screenplay, and he flounders. Cedric tries to tart up the dreary atmosphere with some goofy one-liners (asking his newfound butler for a Spider-Man kite was a personal favorite) and moments of dress-up, but that stuff only gets titters. The rest of the time, the actor is trying to keep a straight face during this ridiculously overcooked plot (something about a video game company and a computer chip that could destroy the world...I think), and hoping that blatant plugs for Skittles, Quiznos, and Best Buy don't look and sound like blatant plugs. He fails.
Expectedly, "The Cleaner" wraps up with some studio-mandated martial art standoffs and gunplay. It also offers the viewer a dream sequence with Sheridan and Liu fighting in a bubble bath, but in the best Les Mayfield manner, it only lasts for a brief, flickering moment. What isn't over in a moment? The rest of this dud.
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