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Air-traffic control and Samuel L. Jackson

Posted by Wesley Morris  April 19, 2011 10:12 AM

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Samuel L. Jackson in Cleaner.JPGThere are moments of workplace boredom in which another round of computer Solitaire can't be tolerated. It's late, you're alone, and solitude confers upon you a degree of invincibility best indulged by turning away from the screen of the high-stakes, high-pressure tasks of air-traffic control toward a screen that promises the low-stakes escapist sludge of a Samuel L. Jackson thriller, one that more or less was made only to play on the portable devices and computer screens of distractible employees everywhere. It's been reported that the other day such a distracted air-traffcksman wound up watching such a Samuel L. Jackson movie.

"Cleaner" was barely released in the world's theaters in 2007. Some people bought the DVD, though scarcely enough to make it a hit. It was directed by Renny Harlin, which didn't always mean "kiss of death." Jackson plays a former detective turned owner of a crime-scene cleaning business that might have wiped away crucial evidence in a murder involving the man in Eva Mendes's life. Ed Harris helps along the way, as does Luis Guizm√°n. Poor, lovable Keke Palmer is depressingly atrocious as Jackson's concerned daughter. (Since "Samuel L. Jackson," "sex" and "romance" rarely appear, happily, in the same sentence, Palmer serves the function that a wife would for Russell Crowe or Tom Cruise. For sexy and Sam, there, unexpectedly, is this.)

"Cleaner" is clunky, confusing, indifferently performed, dull and not to be confused with either "Sunshine Cleaning," with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt or "Code Name: The Cleaner," starring Cedric the Entertainer. Nor should the movie solely be seen on some cosmic continuum in which Jackson does more "brain detail," but surely, somewhere, Quentin Tarantino was shaking his damn head, anyway. The ghost of Marvin still haunts. It's true that I saw half of "Cleaner" while getting a haircut at a Chicago barbershop and felt only loosely compelled to track down the other half later. Which is to say it's no worse than most of what winds up making much more than the $3.7 million or so that this movie did.

The Federal Aviation Administration has suspended the offending controller, who was discovered after the tower radio picked up the movie's soundtrack. It's the latest in what's been a rash of publicized incidents at the country's air-traffic towers, raising concerns about the hazardous schedules these men and women are asked to work. Most of the reported cases have involved dozing off. In this case, the controller was awake, but given his choice of "in-flight" entertainment, who can say for how long?

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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