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I make absolutely no bones about my love of international film. I seem to have it rather bad for movies from the Asian continent. In the last 10 years or so, they simply have made better filmmaking decisions; great established directors taking new chances; new directors making impressive, innovative names for themselves. I think a lot of my leaning toward that market is a reaction to how dismayed I am time and time again at the Hollywood studios. Their lack of imagination has me comparing them to a great lumbering giant, with victories behind it, and nothing but yearning for former glories ahead. How rare is it these days to see any American film that isn’t a sequel, a “re-imagining” (LOVE that word), a remake, or a feature based on a television series? Oy! The reliance on same sad old formulas instead of creating films that might actually not underestimate the intelligence of their audience is so tired. Ditto for the repeated use of filmmakers who are trusted with those precious 90 minutes in front of a paying crowd and continually hurling tripe at the screen.

Ok, rant over. What’s brought on this fit is the screening of Code Name: the Cleaner, I attended. I have to mention the innumerable bad decisions that helped this movie become the flaming mess you would do well to avoid. Somebody please tell me where the Hollywood studios are ladling out free money? Seems like all you have to do is stand there long enough, and someone will give you gratis dough. Was there no other director available in all of Hollywood that we had to leave this film in the hands of Les Mayfield, whose major credits include the remakes of both Miracle on 34th Street and Flubber, as well as that paean to filmmaking known as The Man? As far as I can tell, you’ve got two strikes against you going in. The only thing that could’ve saved this movie, is if Mayfield had been canny enough to choose between making a film for kids, a la Agent Cody Banks or Spy Kids; or making something for strictly older audiences with more adult humor, possibly a spoof or send up of spy films. You can see the line that Mayfield straddles to keep that PG-13 rating and ends up with a piece not broad enough and too naughty for the younger set, and not sharp or funny enough for adults. In either case there’s only about 7 minutes of action in this alleged spy comedy, and that’s not enough for anybody.

The plot, for those who care, revolves around the amnesiac Jake (Cedric the Entertainer), who wakes up in a fancy hotel room with a case full of money and a murdered FBI agent. Remembering nothing, he relies on both the mysterious Diane (Nicollette Sheridan) who claims to be his wife, and later, pretty, plucky waitress Gina (Lucy Liu) who claims to be his girlfriend. Who is Jake really, and why does he keep having flashbacks to Special Ops combat duty? Why is everyone after him? Who is telling him the truth? Is he or isn’t he a deep-cover spy as he believes himself to be? In better hands, you might actually care about the answer.

Now, I like Cedric the Entertainer, he was one of my favourite Original Kings of Comedy (A well placed Teddy Pendergrass reference gets me every time). Let’s face it, how can you not love someone who so closely resembles a teddy bear? I think he has the charm to have made his character very appealing to younger kids, and it was lost in the process, but not for lack of Ced trying. In so many scenes, you can see Cedric doing his darndest to keep the energy going in a film that was clearly made as an afterthought by nearly everyone involved. Nicollette Sheridan whips out her Desperate Housewives sexy in an ill-fitting scene where her Diane attempts to seduce Jake in a well-fitting gingham bra and thong set, and you get the idea that was really all they wanted her for.

Three words for Lucy Liu: Fire. Your. Agent. (Bonus word: Today!) How in the world did O-Ren Ishii end up in this hot mess? How? The end of the film feature outtakes (so much funnier than what’s in the actual film…) where a sassy security guard sizes up Liu’s character, Gina, and says “Ain’t you that girl from Charlie’s Angels?”, and Liu has the grace to look abashed. The one real action set-up in the film features Liu and Mark Dacascos (no stranger to unfortunate film selections, himself) in a martial arts free-for-all which gives the movie its only bright spot. (Okay, okay, so I thought a scene where a wannabe rapper begs an FBI agent to shoot him in the backside so he can gain street cred was funny. I never said I was mature!) If they had more of kind of action and a hell of a lot more comedy, maybe this movie would have been rescued from utter dreckfullness. Ms. Liu, if you wanna pull an O-Ren and remove head from shoulders of whoever landed you in this jackpot, I promise I won’t tell.


~ Mighty Ganesha

Jan 10, 2007


Completely side note: I had to - HAD to - mention a little more about the screening itself. Dear Screening Gods, can I please, please, (one mo’ time for JB) please go to more screenings arranged by (R&B landmark radio station) WBLS? Please!!! Not only was it in a lovely large venue, but the music that was played while we all got our seats almost had your friendly neighbourhood reviewer out me seat. I’ll take Lucy Pearl, Common and Ciara over car commercials any day. And they brought a DJ to do warm-up jokes before the film (again, funnier than the film itself), and also to hand out WBLS caps to first, “the children”, then, “the single mothers”, then, to “the grandparents” in the audience. I was so happy that I was nowhere in the path between a grandparent and a free hat! I have never seen such combat ferocity, such ruthless physicality as a senior citizen trying to get a WBLS baseball cap! Canes were raised threateningly and quantities of grandchildren compared before WBLS decided to get these folks some more hats! But no moment of the evening made my life as complete as to come near the end of the film, and (having smartly placed myself behind a group of battlin’ Grannies) hearing the unmistakable sound of a 40-ounce bottle hit the floor in a loud clink! I thank these ladies for their experience and wisdom, which has shown me the way to getting through another film like Code Name: the Cleaner.



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