A potentially compelling film noir story delivered in an irritatingly bright and overzealous package, Cleaner has two very excellent things going for it -- and their names are Samuel L. Jackson and Ed Harris. If you're a serious fan of either actor (and if you're not, you should be), then you'll definitely want to rent Cleaner once it (eventually) pops up in your local theater video store. Beyond the contributions from Jackson and Harris, however, there's very little worth talking about where Cleaner is concerned.
We start off with a potentially juicy concept: Sam Jackson plays a 'hazardous waste cleaner' who gets framed for a murder he (probably) didn't commit. And when I say 'hazardous waste cleaner' I mean that this is the guy who'd come to your house to eliminate the gore if someone happened to have their brains blown out in your living room. So things look pretty promising at the outset: We've got a great actor playing a strange role and doing a fine job of it -- and then the plot kicks in.
Seems that our "cleaner" has just cleaned up a murder that the police know nothing about. And even if they DID have a clue, they'd probably be thrilled about it because the victim was a stool pigeon who was about to blow the lid off some serious police corruption charges. So when Cleaner guy realizes that he forgot to return the house key, he's distressed to learn that The Wife (Eva Mendes) knows nothing about any bloodshed in her living room. But, oddly enough, her husband has just gone missing. (dun dun dunnnnn) And on and on it goes: Jackson's noble-guy cleaner wanders from crime scene to plot point with predictable results: The 'whodunnit' stuff starts getting more and more confusing, plus our poor protagonist must also protect his teenage daughter, avoid the suspicious glances of a dirty detective (Luis Guzman), and get some assistance from an old buddy (Harris) who's still on the police force. And even with all these characters and plot contortions -- you'll still know precisely where Cleaner is headed after only about 25 minutes.
The screenplay by first-timer Matthew Aldrich is an unquestionably mixed bag: His characters are relatively well-crafted and his dialog often zings, but he's crafted an old-school film noir concept that starts out fairly unique and then steadily loses freshness with every passing scene. So while Cleaner is a solid enough showcase for a fistful of colorful actors, the plot they're working on is network quality at best.
Some of the problem could stem from the fact that Renny Harlin is the director -- and I don't necessarily mean that as a bash. I happen to admire several of Harlin's action flicks (particularly Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea and Cliffhanger), but I'm thinking he's simply the wrong man for a film noir / whodunnit / character study like this one. The movie sure looks slick and appealing, but overall it feels a lot like an overlit toothpaste commercial that happens to have a lot of gore in it. Music-wise, Richard Gibbs' score is quite energetic and exciting -- but it feels like it was stolen from another movie. An action movie. Last gripe: The ending of the flick made me want to slap someone.
Definitely worth checking out if you'd like to see something a little more sedate from Sam Jackson (or you're fascinated to see what "professional gore cleaners" do), but Cleaner has 'straight-to-DVD' written all over it.