Review: ‘Clean Slate’

Any movie stolen by a dog with a depth-perception problem can't be all bad, and "Clean Slate" isn't without a few inspired comic moments. For the most part, however, this convoluted comedy feels like a pale follow-up to "Groundhog Day" that should test the marquee value of star Dana Carvey, chalking up some modest box office returns before being erased by big-budget summer fare.

Any movie stolen by a dog with a depth-perception problem can’t be all bad, and “Clean Slate” isn’t without a few inspired comic moments. For the most part, however, this convoluted comedy feels like a pale follow-up to “Groundhog Day” that should test the marquee value of star Dana Carvey, chalking up some modest box office returns before being erased by big-budget summer fare.

More than anything, the movie underscores the challenge “Saturday Night Live” alumni have faced shifting to the bigscreen,forced to play a single character instead of, in Carvey’s case, his stable of over-the-top caricatures and impersonations.

On top of that, the clever premise — a guy suffering from a form of amnesia that causes him to forget everything when he goes to sleep — never really congeals in the execution, partly because the movie has to keep retracing its steps, grinding to a halt every time Carvey nods off again.

First-time screenwriter Robert King seems to have taken much of his inspiration from ’40s film noir in putting together a complex mystery plot with assorted nefarious characters, then dropping his dazed and confused protagonist into the middle.

Carvey plays Pogue, a private detective who’s been afflicted with his unique illness after a car explosion. Joined by a mysterious woman (Valeria Golino) who was supposed to have died in theblast, he must try to find a priceless coin while staying alive long enough to testify against the mobster, Cornell (Michael Gambon), who engineered the explosion.

Various parties carom off the mystified Pogue, but the narrative would be smoother if the story was told in one day — sort of in “D.O.A.” fashion — rather than the structure used here, which has Pogue undergoing his cerebral reset at least three times, each time putting the plot on hold.

Director Mick Jackson (“The Bodyguard”) pulls off some amusing sequences, most of them involving Barkley, a Jack Russell terrier seen occasionally on TV’s “Full House,” who goes through the movie wearing an eye patch and keeps running into things head first. That the pic’s ad campaign gives the dog equal billing with Carvey may indicate where MGM saw the movie’s appeal.

Carvey fares reasonably well here from an acting standpoint, though with the exception of a few scenes the role is too restrained to tap into the skills he’s exhibited on television or even in the “Wayne’s World” pix.

Other than Gambon, who oozes nastiness, no one else in the cast particularly shines, though one nice recurring gag has Kevin Pollak densely unable to ascertain that it’s Pogue who’s been stepping out with his fiancee (Olivia D’Abo).

Tech credits are OK, though the Venice/Santa Monica locales don’t do much to capture the potboiler atmosphere the script seems to seek. An animatronic version of Barkley also looks rather ersatz, perhaps to fend off flak about having the critter keep missing his doggy-door. Even so, this is one movie that, quite literally, goes to the dog.

Clean Slate

Production

A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck. Directed by Mick Jackson. Screenplay, Robert King.

Crew

Camera (DeLuxe color) , Andrew Dunn; editor, Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; music, Alan Silvestri; production design, Norman Reynolds; art direction, William Hiney;set decoration, Anne Kuljian; costume design, Ruth Myers; sound (Dolby), Willie Burton; associate producer, Gary Daigler; assistant director, Matthew Carlisle; casting, Mindy Marin. Reviewed at the Avco Center Cinema, L.A., May 4, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 107 min.

With

Pogue - Dana Carvey
Sarah/Beth - Valeria Golino
Dolby - James Earl Jones
Rosenheim - Kevin Pollak
Cornell - Michael Gambon
Dr. Doover - Michael Murphy
Paula - Jayne Brook
Hendrix - Vyto Ruginis
Judy - Olivia D'Abo
Baby - Barkley
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