When Cedric the Entertainer (2005's "The Honeymooners
") and Lucy Liu (2005's "Domino
") signed on the dotted line and agreed to star in "Code Name: The Cleaner," they couldn't have possibly believed in their heart of hearts that it would turn out any way other than badly. A pedestrian action-comedy with two or three lightly amusing bits stretched out over a seriously padded 84-minute running time, the movie is tailor-made for the doldrums of January. From the title up, it has turkey written all over it.
Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer) wakes up in a hotel bed next to the fresh corpse of an FBI agent. He has no recollection of who he is or how he has ended up in his current predicament, but when the curvaceous Diane (Nicollette Sheridan) approaches him in the lobby and claims to be his wife, Jake has little choice but to trust her on her word. It's all a ruse, however, and soon Jake is on the run from bad guys who believe he is hiding a valuable microchip. Teaming up with a cute waitress named Gina (Lucy Liu) who may or may not be his girlfriendJake can't rememberthey set out to evade the crooked thieves following them and get to the bottom of his mysterious past. Gina is convinced he is a janitor at a video game software company, but if that's true, why is Jake experiencing flashbacks of fighting in a war zone?
If "Code Name: The Cleaner" sounds like an intriguing thriller with a plot full of twists and turns, think again. There are some revelations for Jake along the way, but they are either plainly predictable or not worth caring about. Suffering from amnesia or not, Jake is a pretty scuzzy character who doesn't give more than a moment's thought to the dead body in his hotel room before he is asking for sexual favors from Diane and generally objectifying every woman he meets. Even when the viewer begins to suspect that he might have changed and has genuinely fallen for Gina, there is a rancid scene where he envisions her and Diane soaping up together in a bubble bath while, in actuality, the gals are engaged in a violent catfight. This isn't very high up on the reasons why the film doesn't work, but it bears mentioning.
On a grander scale, "Code Name: The Cleaner" is idiotically scripted by Robert Adetuyi (2000's "Turn It Up") and George Gallo (2004's "The Whole Ten Yards
") and directed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Les Mayfield, a filmmaker of trash whose last minimal effort was 2005's awful Samuel L. Jackson/Eugene Levy buddy comedy "The Man
." That is not exactly the sort of behind-the-scenes pedigree one should strive for when setting up a broad concept comedy, and their weaknesses show through. So dumbed-down and mistrusting of its audience is the film that Jake is forced to speak all of his thoughts simply to spell out the story developments for the viewers. Meanwhile, the jokes are forced, crass, and in a few cases homophobic, edited in a sloppy way that has no idea of the value in proper comic timing. Only a set piece in which Jake accidentally ends up performing on a stage with a professional dance troupe and a few of the lines delivered by sassy natural talent Niecy Nash (2005's "Guess Who
"), as tell-it-like-it-is parking garage attendant Jacuzzi, garner anything resembling a smile.
Cedric the Entertainer has stretched himself perilously thin in his monotonous role as Jake Rodgers. He mugs for the camera and overacts himself into a frenzy as he tries to squeeze laughs out of laughless material. While failing to do so, he forgets to give Jake an endearing side. Lucy Liu is exponentially better as Gina, lending glimmers of class and shades of an actual character to an underwritten part. Liu is so above this movie that it's painful to see her waste her time in it.
Watching "Code Name: The Cleaner" is like staring into a dark, uneventful abyss. Lightweight to the point of barely existing on the screen, the film tells a lame story via lowest-common-denominator gags and offers nothing fresh to the proceedings. Before shooting, the folks who greenlit this should have asked themselves if it was a motion picture worth spending millions of dollars on. Had they, their answer would have been in the negative and they could have spared the world what amounts to just another hunk of cinematic manure destined for WalMart DVD bargain bins. With respects to the ever-vivacious Lucy Liu, "Code Name: The Cleaner" sucks.