'Cleaner,' 'Happily': Hollywood Slop Is Unsightly, Sadly

Cedric the Entertainer? Yes. Cedric the Entertainer Who Picks Good Projects? He's not in
Cedric the Entertainer? Yes. Cedric the Entertainer Who Picks Good Projects? He's not in "The Cleaner." (By Annabel Reyes -- New Line Productions)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 5, 2007

It's a ritual as reliable as the ball dropping in Times Square: Early each year, Hollywood -- having spent Christmas cramming prestige pictures and Oscar bait into theaters in time to qualify for awards and critics' lists -- delivers a collective "gotcha," unloading their dregs on moviegoers too desperate or too narcotized by holiday turkey to notice.

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to The Dumps.

That's what the movie industry calls it, "the dumps," which describes what Hollywood is doing and the mood it leaves audiences in. And "Code Name: The Cleaner" and "Happily N'Ever After," the first dumps across the bow in 2007, stand as textbook examples of the phenomenon, both in their aesthetic values (little to none), worldview (cynical) and utter disposability. You won't see them, and even if you do you won't remember it the next day. They're the cinematic equivalents of the bad traffic jam: unqualified torture at the time, but utterly forgotten by the first martini. (Which reminds me: Waiter!)

Of the two movies, "The Cleaner" has the best chance of actually tempting people into theaters, thanks to Cedric the Entertainer, the hugely popular -- and just plain huge -- stand-up comedian. In this by-the-numbers action comedy, he plays a humble janitor who awakes one day in a strange hotel room with a dead guy at his side; he's lost his memory and spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out why he's apparently involved with two women (Nicollette Sheridan and Lucy Liu), why he keeps having flashbacks of being an elite spy and why the FBI is after him.

Aside from Cedric's admittedly appealing persona -- he's always watchable, even in dreck like this -- there's absolutely nothing to recommend "The Cleaner," not the putative comedy (watch Cedric dance lasciviously with a lingerie-clad Sheridan) nor the action, which kicks in only at the end and seems to be composed of martial arts stunts Jackie Chan deemed too cheesy. Advice: Skip "The Cleaner" and watch "The Original Kings of Comedy" instead.

Judging from the number of walkouts at a recent free screening of "Happily N'Ever After," this one takes the dubious prize for Worst Dump of the Week. This computer-animated fractured fairy tale can be described as a family film only in the sense that it's a film the whole family will want to avoid.

Sarah Michelle Gellar voices the character of Ella, a gamine scullery maid who longs to be invited to the ball so she can meet the handsome prince. "Happily N'Ever After," which has been written and directed by People You've N'Ever Heard Of, seeks to turn the traditional Cinderella narrative on its head, confecting a story in which the wicked stepmother takes over and the bad guys, not the usual "dorky ingenues and pretentious princes," win the day.

At least the premise of "Happily N'Ever After" showed promise: Heaven knows kids could use a feminist revision of the usual tale that begins in passive victimhood and ends in marriage. The movie raises that issue -- but only a minute before reverting to slick, snarky and un-subversive form.

The cast is rounded out by Sigourney Weaver (channeling her fabulous performance in "Holes") as perhaps the first evil stepmother in Grimm history with junk in the trunk, and Freddie Prinze Jr. as a palace servant who looks like a cross between alt-rocker Jeff Tweedy and a bit player from "Shrek." Advice: Skip "Happily N'Ever After" and . . . oh, just skip it.

Code Name: The Cleaner(84 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor and some violence.

Happily N'Ever After(87 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

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