You know a comedy is in trouble when the funniest moments of the movie occur during the closing credits’ outtakes. Unfortunately, that’s the case with Code Name: The Cleaner, the new “comedy” starring Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan.
Cedric plays Jake, a seemingly regular guy who wakes up in a hotel room with a case of amnesia, a nasty bump on his head and a dead guy lying next to him. Oh, and there also happens to be a briefcase full of money sitting on the floor. Frightened and confused, Jake grabs the briefcase and flees, hoping to find some clues about his identity.
Leaving the hotel, Jake runs into a suspicious blond (Sheridan) who convinces him that he’s a secret agent working under deep cover as a janitor at a technology firm. Though he’s happy to embrace the posh lifestyle, he soon discovers that not all is what it seems. With the help of an actual FBI agent (Liu), Jake’s memories slowly return, revealing that he’s actually at the center of a vast conspiracy involving a super-powerful computer chip. In order to keep the chip from getting into the wrong hands, he’ll have to use his vast array of janitorial skills (and crafty one-liners) to take down the bad guys.
Code Name: The Cleaner isn’t without potential. Venerable funnyman Cedric the Entertainer brings a strong pedigree to the table, and co-stars Liu and Sheridan have both shown that they’re more than capable of holding their own in a comedic setting.
Even the premise – an amnesiac janitor is convinced he’s a special agent – can’t be blamed. Much more successful comedies have been built on far flimsier plots.
Nope, the problem lies squarely in the script. It’s bland, predictable and filled with countless “fish out of water” jokes simply don’t deliver. Cedric, Liu, Sheridan and director Les Mayfield don’t have much to work with, and what they do have feels canned and phoned-in.
As evidenced by the outtakes, the only real laughs come when Cedric is allowed to ad lib. Cedric’s improv skills are formidable (his uproarious performance in Barbershop was mostly ad-libbed), but it looks as if he was reigned in for this film. Perhaps his brand of comedy is just a bit too edgy for a PG-13 rating.
He does have his moments. In the beginning of the film, when he realizes that he’s wealthy and married to a white woman, he asks himself, “Am I Lionel Ritchie?” With all the abuse Nicole’s received, it’s good to see another member of the Ritchie family used as a punchline for once.
That joke, incidentally, is in the trailer, as are most of the movie’s other funny moments. Not counting the closing credits, that adds up to exactly two minutes and two seconds of comedy within an 84-minute film. Mediocre, by any measure.