When the closing-credit outtakes during "Code Name: The Cleaner" prove almost wholly unfunny, it's doubly enlightening in terms of the haphazard exercise that preceded them, inasmuch as Cedric the Entertainer is shown riffing through variations on most of his lines -- dovetailing with the movie's general disregard for script or story. January is usually not the time to expect much high art among new releases, but this is an especially limp star vehicle that delivers a few widely spaced moments of frivolity before what should be a quick mop-up trip to the DVD aisles.
When the closing-credit outtakes during “Code Name: The Cleaner” prove almost wholly unfunny, it’s doubly enlightening in terms of the haphazard exercise that preceded them, inasmuch as Cedric the Entertainer is shown riffing through variations on most of his lines — dovetailing with the movie’s general disregard for script or story. January is usually not the time to expect much high art among new releases, but this is an especially limp star vehicle that delivers a few widely spaced moments of frivolity before what should be a quick mop-up trip to the DVD aisles.
Director Les Mayfield has a relatively long roster of not terribly distinguished but occasionally profitable comedies to his credit, the more recent including “The Man” and “Blue Streak.” Here, he almost entirely hands the reins to producer and star Cedric, a talented fellow who can’t generate enough mirth to breathe life into this stale spy spoof.
Cedric plays Jake, who awakens in a hotel room next to a dead FBI agent with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Stumbling out, he’s picked up by the beautiful Diane (Nicollette Sheridan), who professes to be his wife and whisks him away to a sprawling mansion.
Surveying his circumstances, Jake lets loose one of the movie’s few clever lines: “Am I Lionel Richie?”
Ah, but those shadowy flashbacks in his head suggest that Jake might be some sort of spy, and the fact that people are chasing him puts him in a classic Hitchcockian nightmare, the everyman harboring some sought-after prize. Escaping Diane and her henchmen, Jake hooks up with a waitress (Lucy Liu) who insists he is simply a janitor, the blow to the head having infused him with delusions of grandeur.
Working from a script credited to Robert Adetuyi and George Gallo, Mayfield can’t decide whether he wants to make a full-blown (if cut-rate, by way of Vancouver) spy movie or a screwball comedy. As such, the action periodically screeches to a halt so Cedric can engage in some bit of buffoonery (a Dutch dance number proves wooden in more ways than one) or another performer can step in to do the same. On that latter score, both DeRay Davis and Niecy Nash, as Jake’s co-workers, at least inject some life into this otherwise moribund affair, albeit by delivering what are in essence stand-up interludes.
These wackier ingredients prove especially difficult for Liu, who wrestles more painfully than most with the stilted dialogue. On the plus side, she gets to put some of those “Kill Bill” martial-arts chops to use and (along with Cedric) is bestowed one of the 15 producer credits, which surely must be some kind of record for a project this modest in scope.
Although there’s a long history of outlandish action comedies, those responsible for “The Cleaner” have failed to recognize the basic need to blend the disparate elements together, instead of splicing two movies into one by making a cheap spy yarn and ad-libbing some comedy. Whether that was the precise formula, it’s surely not new, not improved and by no means potent enough to get the job done.