Cedric the Entertainer (Cedric Kyles), one of the original "Kings of Comedy," is a pleasant, genial comedian who came to prominence on the big screen in "Barbershop" in 2002. Since then, however, Hollywood has yet to find a good starring vehicle for him, saddling him with clunkers like "Johnson Family Vacation," "Man of the House," and "The Honeymooners." I'm afraid 2007's "Code Name: The Cleaner" is no better, a rather silly and humorless affair that pretty much wastes Cedric's comic talents.
Cedric plays Jake Rodgers, a janitor. Or a super spy. Or a janitor. Or a super spy. He, and we, are never quite sure. Jake wakes up one morning in a strange hotel room, with an even stranger dead guy in his bed. What's more, the guy's got a bullet in him, and there's an attaché case full of money on the floor, which Jake ascertains at a glance contains a quarter of a million dollars. Don't ask. Jake can't remember a thing about the night before, or his whole life before, a bump on his head having given him amnesia. He can't even remember his own name until a sexy blonde (Nicolloette Sheridan) introduces herself to him as his wife, drives him to their mansion in the country, and shows him their stable of exotic cars. Sounds like a deal to me, but for reasons unknown, Jake seems concerned about all this. Admittedly, the dead guy is difficult, but....
Anyway, from this promising beginning, the movie gets frivolous in a hurry, yet with virtually no laughs. I mean, the studio bills it as a comedy, and Cedric the Entertainer is largely a comic actor, so, yeah, we might expect a few guffaws, cackles, chuckles, chortles, grins, or smiles along the way. But, no. Not a single moment of levity works. Flatter than a week-old soda and staler than the sandwich you forgot under the seat of your car along with it.
It's pretty amazing, really, to think that the story could be this dull. I mean, didn't anybody read the script before moving ahead with the project? The film is rated PG-13, and there is nothing particularly crude or unconscionable about it, so perhaps that's what the filmmakers were going for in the first place: something as mild and innocuous as possible. I don't know. Or perhaps it was all the fault of director Les Mayfield, whose previous films were "Flubber," "Encino Man," "American Outlaws," "Blue Streak," and the equally insipid "The Man." Certainly with that track record, we might not expect the world's funniest movie from Mayfield. Or perhaps the director and screenwriters thought that Cedric could save even the dreariest story by improvising some business and lines. Again, I have no idea what goes through the heads of filmmakers who must know they're starting with nothing. Not even the location shooting in Vancouver, B.C., helps, since much of the picture takes place indoors. The film's only action scene, a car chase, occurs in a parking lot. Small budget, I guess.
OK, Jake may be a little dense, but it doesn't take him all that long to figure out that maybe, just maybe, somebody is up to no good, so off he goes on his own to find out who he actually is, with the police and a gang of baddies hot on his trail. Along the way he meets an old girlfriend, Diane (Lucy Liu), whom he also doesn't remember, working as a waitress. She, too, goes along on the adventure. Then there's the head bad guy, Erik Hauck (Mark Dacascoes), a menacing character who gets far too little playing time; an old friend, Riley (Will Patton), who gets even less playing time than Dacascoes and as usual wastes Patton's talents; and a fast-talking janitor, Ronnie (DeRay Davis), who practically steals the show. Davis's character is the only one who displays any signs of life, so, naturally, the filmmakers don't give him more than a few minutes playing time.
There are interludes where Cedric plays golf and where he dances in a chorus line (in a costume he finds lying around and coincidentally just fits him) and so forth, all of them seeming like mere nonsensical filler, as if the filmmakers had no idea what to do to expand the thirty-minute plot into a ninety-minute movie, except to throw in random bits for Cedric to exploit. None of it works.
As a spy caper, "Code Name: The Cleaner" is lame.
As a comedy, the movie is a nonstarter.
The whole affair leaves poor Cedric stranded as an entertainer.
The real stars of the movie are its excellent picture and sound. New Line's commitment to audiovisual quality always impresses me, even when the product itself is less than sterling. The movie's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio nicely fills up a 1.78:1 widescreen television, and a high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer delivers vivid colors, deep black levels, and fairly well-defined standard resolution. The image is bright and clean at all times, and one can hardly complain about that.
The disc menu says "Audio optimized for DVD. No re-equalization required." Whew. I'm glad of that. Seriously, I've never noticed this comment on a DVD before (but, then, I've probably never looked very hard). As far as I know, audio engineers have always re-equalized movie soundtracks for DVDs. Otherwise, the sound the filmmakers provided for a big auditorium would sound pretty awful in your living room.
Be that as it may, the audio here is even better than it has a right to be, coming in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. In DD 5.1 there is a strong, thumping bass appropriate to the movie's hip-hop music and various aural effects; there are good surround sounds coming from all directions; and there is a dynamic impact that will sometimes knock you backwards. And, yes, of course, there are helicopter flyovers. This may be a comedy, but it's an action-comedy after all.
The disc's primary bonus item is a twenty-minute featurette, "Moppin' Up With the Cleaning Crew," that provides a few backstage looks at the filmmakers and the film. It's about as interesting as the feature presentation, for what that's worth. In addition, we get sixteen scene selections, but no chapter insert; a theatrical trailer; and Sneak Peeks at "King's Ransom," "Take the Lead," "Getting Played," and '50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die." English is the disc's only spoken language option, with English and Spanish subtitles. For reasons unknown, New Line provides a cardboard slipcover for the DVD case. I've never understood the concept of slipcovers, but it can't do any harm.
"Code Name: The Cleaner" is neither offensive nor gross. It is not a dumb comedy that makes its audience cringe at its outrageously stupid antics. Moreover, Cedric the Entertainer is, as I said in the beginning, a most pleasant and charming performer who is easy to like. No, the movie is simply boring, and Cedric has nothing worth doing or saying in it. Maybe next time.