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'The Cleaner' is nice to have around

Cedric the Entertainer's screwball version of 'The Bourne Identity' has no surprises but some pleasures.

January 05, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

Imagine "The Bourne Identity" but starring Cedric the Entertainer.

The gag in "Code Name: The Cleaner" is that hapless Jake (the aforementioned Cedric the Entertainer) wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead FBI agent and a briefcase full of cash, but with amnesia. He must figure out what happened, where a highly sought-after computer chip is, and if he's a secret agent, a janitor or both. And he must do it before he runs out of one-liners and absurd predicaments. Throw in femme fatale Diane (Nicollette Sheridan) and good girl Gina (Lucy Liu), some gunfire and cleaning products, and you've got a tidy little entertainment.

It's not spotless. The direction by Les Mayfield (of -- brace yourself -- "Encino Man") is ordinary, with the usual "see how funny this is" overuse of score. The script, credited to Robert Adetuyi ("Stomp the Yard," which opens Jan. 12) and George Gallo ("Midnight Run"), is repetitious, and the plot doesn't make a lick of sense. And for those who care about such things, the Vancouver-for-Seattle production brims with blatant brand placements.

"The Cleaner" does have its pleasures, though, such as a surprising old-lady-spanking scene and a clog-dancing "battle." The ever-foxy Liu and the amusingly addled Entertainer make a solid comic team. Most of the memorable lines are a shade spicy for a family newspaper, one of which comes after Diane tells the incredulous Jake that they're married, he leans in to kiss her and she hits him.

The movie is all but stolen by a couple of supporting players: DeRay Davis as Jake's custodial colleague Ronnie and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!") as lusty security guard Jacuzzi ("It's French," she sniffs). The intense Ronnie delivers raps so fantastically awful they're unintentionally avant-garde: They don't rhyme or follow any recognizable rhythmic pattern. And they're about the hard-knock life of a janitor. Ronnie's bathroom confrontation with a villain is one of the biggest laughs in the movie.

"Code Name: The Cleaner" offers no surprises but is good-natured and funny. It's mercifully devoid of car chases, although it does have a truly inane gunfight -- did any of these trained killers ever hear of target practice? -- and some out-of-left-field martial arts.

Anyway, it's always fun to see Liu beat on some bad guys. Check your disbelief at the door and you'll get just what you expect.

"Code Name: The Cleaner." MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.

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