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MOVIE REVIEW

Cedric's act is far from entertaining

Cedric the Entertainer plays a janitor who thinks he's a spy in 'Code Name: The Cleaner.' Cedric the Entertainer plays a janitor who thinks he's a spy in "Code Name: The Cleaner." (new line cinema via krt)

Any movie that asks Lucy Liu to call Cedric the Entertainer her "boo" ought to be better than "Code Name: The Cleaner" -- or worse. But it's another standard-issue bad star-vehicle action-comedy, this time for Cedric.

He plays a janitor named Jake, which is not a name Cedric appears to know how to play. The janitor thinks he's a spy -- "James Bond on Red Bull," he says (oh, if only). He has no memory of anything, but he woke up next to a dead FBI agent, is apparently married to Nicollette Sheridan , and Lucy Liu (a waitress until, suddenly, she's not) is his mistress -- make that boo.

So it's "Memento" for dummies. But to this movie's credit, I couldn't follow it, either. Gradually, Jake realizes he's a major player in a weapon-of-mass-destruction conspiracy involving a video-game chip. Nobody is who they appear to be, not even Cedric, who's blander than ever.

"The Cleaner" is a title that easily applies to what his rising Hollywood star has done for the "Entertainer" part of Cedric's nom de fame: he practically squeaks. There was probably a moment before he was doing goose voices with Oprah in "Charlotte's Web," before he was hosting the Black Movie Awards , when Cedric would have needed a movie like "Code Name: The Cleaner." He would have torn up the dumb sex jokes and lame race gags. This is the movie of a man in his lean years, the early ones.

Tummy and all, Cedric is no longer lean. Now he looks as indifferent to being here as Liu and Sheridan do, and when Nicollette Sheridan can't be bothered to have fun in a bra and panties, something's extremely wrong. Will Patton , as a software executive, is unkempt and hammy, but what's new about that? And straight-to-cable action veteran Mark Dacascos does get in a few high kicks, as the corporate villain.

You can tell who needs "The Cleaner" by how loud in it they are. Niecy Nash , one of the cops from the Comedy Central improv show "Reno 911!," could rouse the dead. She has a small part as a building attendant with the hots for Cedric. He can't remember loving her up at a Christmas party. Now she requires a date, and a classy one: "I don't want no damn nine-piece!"

DeRay Davis steals a few scenes as a motor-mouthed janitor with hip-hop aspirations. He bets he could out-street-cred Tupac and 50 Cent were he to rap in a coma. You probably have to hear his hyped-up delivery to find it as funny as it is. But he and Nash give this movie that sweet keepin'-it-real desperation it needs. Neither of them is well-off or famous enough to waste the opportunity, hence they all but shout, "This is a stick up!" in their scenes. Still, they have got to start robbing better junk than this.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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