CLEANER is somewhat of an enigmatic movie: it starts out as though it is going to be a sassy comedy about a retired cop whose job it is to 'clean up' after homicides (a distinctly messy and repulsive job), turns into a rather grisly crime investigation story, adds a dollop of 'ain't life grand', and finishes as an exposé of police corruption. The story line by Matthew Aldrich is further fragmented by being so full of holes that the audience has to toss credibility overboard in order to make it through, and the method of direction by Renny Harlin can't seem to settle on which style to take. It is all kind of a mess and justifies the straight to DVD move. The saving grace of the film is a cast of stalwart actors who can make even a shaky script palatable.
Tom Cutler (Samuel L. Jackson) is a 'retired' cop who makes his living cleaning up the gory remainders of criminal acts of homicide and other grisly crimes. We learn his wife was murdered some years ago, leaving him as a single father of the bright and charming teenager Rose (Keke Palmer). Cutler happens on an assignment to clean a particularly gruesome homicide scene in the home of one Ann Northcut (Eva Mendes in a nicely understated role) and as the convoluted story develops, Cutler realizes that the crime scene represents a culmination of forces that threaten to uncork a long history of police corruption - a history that involves him and his best friend Eddie Lorenzo (Ed Harris) and the tough Detective Jim Vargas (a terrific Luis Guzmán). How the story ties together and ends is too loose to convey and would ruin the minimal drama present.
Each of the actors, even the minor roles played very well by such artists as Jose Pablo Cantillo and Robert Forster, give it the full court press. But the see-through script and the jumbled camera work and direction prevent this from being a significant film. Grady Harp
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