FFFJ: Code Name: The Cleaner
With today's release of Code Name: The Cleaner, I had to put up such a post. The film's release is an exciting moment for me, but also one which I fear may prove to be bittersweet.
In all the time that I have been a script reader, I have read many films that eventually were released. I've written about many of them on this very blog. There have also been films which I read, and were purchased or optioned by the company I read them for. Still, to my knowledge, no film yet has gone the entire way from me reading it, to my company buying it, to having it produced, and seeing it released by them. The ones that have been released came from other companies than those for whom I read. Often they were just writing samples, other times someone else bought the script.
That's all about to change with the release of this film. Back in mid-April of 2001 I read for New Line a script called Traces by Robert Adetuyi. I gave it a RECOMMEND. In time, New Line optioned it. Nearly six years later, that film is being released as Code Name: The Cleaner. Obviously, this is somewhat exciting for me. At the same time, however, while I suspect the film might do okay, I also fear that the film might not meet my original hopes or expectations.
For one thing, I am not the hugest Cedric fan. Though I did think he was quite hilarious in THIS MOVIE, I still fear he may not have been the best choice.
On the flip side, he does have a sizable fan base, so they might be enough to give this film a good opening weekend. Furthermore, with the type of film this became, he might actually be just the right type of comedic actor to pull it off.
I say "the type of film this became" because it is clearly a far cry from what I originally read. There is currently a second credited writer, which means a lot has been changed from Adetuyi's version, firstly. Also, my biggest issue when I read it originally was that the action and comedy elements did not meld well. I said that something needed to be done -- either make it more action, or better blend the comedy with it, though I leaned towards the former. Clearly, they went with the latter.
Now this is not necessarily a bad choice, just one that could potentially backfire. Hopefully not, but we'll see.
So the film ended up becoming sort of a comedic version of Bourne Identity. With the popularity of the Bourne movies, and the recent spate of spy thrillers, this could actually work quite well, but it remains to be seen.
I'd also like to add, by the way, that this coverage was early in my reading career, and if I read the script today I probably would only give it a STRONG CONSIDER or CONSIDER. But still, it could have paid off in the end. We'll see soon enough. Now for my coverage:
DRAFT DATE: 3/15/01
LOGLINE: A man with amnesia learns that he is actually a secret agent, and must try to recover his lost memories.
BRIEF: This script works best in its thriller and action elements, but loses some steam from a bizarre dollop of humor laid on top of the whole story. If the tone can be more adequately matched throughout, and the specific story elements made more original, this could be a very good film.
COMMENTS: Traces is a relatively well-crafted action thriller. It benefits from some good plot twists and rapid pacing. The script does, however, present a few weaknesses, primarily in its uneven tone, and somewhat hackneyed scenes throughout the mildly complex plotline.
The best element of this script is its fast pace. Each sequence moves rapidly into the next, without much wasted time. Adetuyi does a good job of avoiding too much exposition, and also successfully avoids showing too much extraneous information. If we would have no trouble figuring out how Jake got from one scene to another, Adetuyi wisely cuts immediately from one to the next. This is, unfortunately, too often not the case in films these days.
The twisty plot is also relatively well constructed. There are, of course, the major shifts, corresponding to the revelations that Jake is actually a spy and, later, that Jake is actually not a spy, after all. Similarly, the other twists, such as Diane’s and Gina’s identities and the fact that Chambers is actually a “bad guy,” help maintain interest throughout the film. We can pretty much assume that no character in this film is exactly who we think they are, which is always entertaining for an audience to watch. In many ways, this script is reminiscent of The Spanish Prisoner, though a major distinction between these two lies in that script's greater originality and homogeneous tone.
And it is exactly those distinctions which highlight the flaws of Traces. Although the overall storyline is full of enjoyable reversals, the individual scenes that make up those sequences are rather standard. The fight scenes are like so many we’ve seen before, and more importantly, are way too similar to each other. The weapon itself is kind of silly sounding, lacking any special aura, and the fact that Jake “disarms” it by removing a computer disc is patently ridiculous, and rather trite. And the entire sequence involving the recovery of the X-1, along with the escape from the Nucor offices, are again standard order. To make this film stand out, the specific scenes that fill the twisty sequences should be crafted as well as the overall plotline.
Additionally, the tone shifts awkwardly between action and humor. If the humor were to simply be of the type that regular people use in their daily lives, this could work. However, the humorous tone the author attempts to set borders on farce, and silly farce at that. This is particularly true in the opening sequence, the most important time to set the proper tone. This script doesn’t play as broad comedy, but rather as an action thriller with an everyday hero. Any humor in this script should probably remain of an extremely realistic nature.
Overall, however, this is an enjoyable script with some fun reversals. The fact that the main characters are African-American could help in opening up an audience that wouldn’t necessarily attend a film like The Spanish Prisoner. If the scene and tone weaknesses can be improved, this film could prove a true crossover success.
COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL: This script could definitely attract a decent sized audience based on its plot strengths and protagonist alone, but to make this script truly successful, the specific elements of the film must be improved to make this a more unique movie.
Tags: Code+Name:+The+Cleaner, movie+review, screenwriting, Robert+Adetuyi, Cedric+the+Entertainer