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Cedric the Entertainer plays Jake, a seemingly regular guy who has no idea who he is after being hit over the head by mysterious assailants; when he finds himself entangled in a government conspiracy, Jake and his pursuers become convinced that he is an undercover agent. Written by
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nonsensical relief from the heavy, fading awards season
Codename: The Cleaner reviewed by Sam Osborn
Welcome to January, generally known as the first of two months that consist mostly of studio duds poured discretely from the back of the release slate and into your multiplexes. Like a late August release, January and February releases generally spell 'trash,' with the best of them offering only a nonsensical relief from the heavy, fading awards season. Thus, we have Codename: The Cleaner.
It's the latest work from director Les Mayfield, a man whose earlier films (Flubber, American Outlaws, The Man) are best described as righteously mediocre. This January gem weighs in on a case of missing identity and FBI espionage with Cedric the Entertainer playing Jake Rodgers, waking up in a hotel bed with a dead FBI agent and a cut above his ear. His memory's been fried, leaving him without a name and only fragments of what looks to be a secrets ops combat mission batting around his brain. Dianeplayed by Nicollete Sheridan, whose beauty has been stretched and manipulated to the point of mimicking a mask from White Chicksapproaches Jake in the hotel lobby, filling him in on some important details pertaining to their supposed marriage and occupation of a bloated estate mansion. It all turns out to be farce, however, when Jake overhears Diane plotting to send Jake into cardiac arrest over a bit of information surrounding a computer chip. Soon Jake's on the run, doing his best play-pretend imitation of spy work, trying to hunt down the computer chip and unveil his own identity.
Like last year's You, Me, and Dupree, Codename: The Cleaner banks heavily on the likability of its lead, giving him the screen-time equivalent of carte blanche. But where Owen Wilson's sly, sandy-haired innocence can grow tiresome, Cedric's rotund antics are nothing if not charming. He leaps to great and often desperate lengths to mine a chuckle, but sometimes surprises us by shoveling out something truly hilarious. So it's a shame that the material surrounding him offers little more than static. Lucy Liu is superbly misused as Jake's girlfriend, rattling off forced punch-lines and rickety, unfitting "sistah" feistiness to match Ms. Sheridan's miscasting as the young, busty blonde (the joke here, I suppose, is that Ms Sheridan's peaked forty). The plot feels improvised; so weak that is seems to modify itself according to whatever improvisation Cedric throws at the script. It all comes together like a Jackie Chan Hong Kong action picture, only with Cedric the Entertainer doing the karate. It works, but only if you slouch in your seat and let your ears and eyes glaze over in a popcorn haze. It is January, after all.
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