Directed by Paul Solet.
Starring Adrien Brody, Glenn Fleshler, Richie Merritt, Chandler DuPont, Michelle Wilson, John Bianco, Dinora Walcott, Mykelti Williamson, and RZA.
Tormented by his past, a garbage man named Clean attempts a quiet life of redemption. But, soon finds himself forced to reconcile with the violence of his past.
Okay, now the January movies are just starting to feel like parodies of January movies played straight.
In Clean (a clear vanity project for Adrien Brody, who stars, co-writes, produces, and provides the brooding score), the protagonist, who is credited as Clean, is a trash man that goes on Robert De Niro Taxi Driver reminiscent narrations about the trash on the street and how the world needs to be cleaned up on multiple levels. On the one hand, it sounds like something Liam Neeson would understand and know how to transform into schlocky fun but headed up by director Paul Solet (who has worked with Adrien Brody on similar generic and gimmicky action fare) results in a self-serious slog that is at best boring and misguided, and at worst, a deeply problematic white savior piece.
Mr. Clean has a dark past that seems to involve violence and drugs, which led to the loss of a daughter in some fashion. Much of this is shrouded in mystery and slowly elaborated on through various flashback snippets, but in the present-day, Clean has found somewhat of a surrogate daughter in the form of next-door neighbor Dianda (Chandler DuPont), who has also experienced tragedy and lives with a well-meaning but mildly neglectful grandmother (Michelle Wilson). In between keeping the demons at bay (Clean also communicates with his sponsor about such topics, which usually just results in cheesy dialogue surrounding redemption and the past always catching up to someone), he finds ways to help out the teenager, such as driving her to school when the bus doesn’t show up or taking her out to dinner when grandma’s busy.
Naturally, Dianda is also at a stage craving her own freedom and wanting to assert some independence, which leads her to party with a bad crowd of Black drug users and would-be sexual assaulters. This paves the way for one of the more troubling sequences, as Clean senses endangerment and fights his way to the rescue, brutally clobbering everyone with a wrench (because, of course, that’s how a sanitation worker named Clean would take care of business). Separate from this is a scene of violence against Asians that winds up unnecessary and overly graphic in the grand scheme of things.
There’s also a secondary plot here, as a white boy is hanging amongst the group, regularly chastised by his mob boss father (an overacting Glenn Fleshler) for listening to rap music and “acting Black.” That’s not to say such criminal overlords should be painted as saintly, but Clean has no idea what it wants to do with any of these racial dynamics or what it wants to say about these characters. It’s flimsy writing meant to put Dianda in more danger (a target by being the only one left Clean cares about and his perceived path to forgiveness for his sins) so that he has more heads to bust while saving the day from impoverished and defenseless Black people.
Despite that ugliness that’s tough to swallow, there is a bleak color palette and a cold aesthetic that, while cliché, fits the mood and the gruff performance Adrien Brody brings to the material. The whole endeavor is toxic, murder fantasy garbage that has a warped sense of manhood, but at least when the story drops its grade school philosophical bullshit macho musings to focus on some preposterous shootouts and unabashed gruesomeness, it’s slightly more tolerable. There is a kill with a flare gun I certainly won’t be forgetting anytime soon, and Adrien Brody amusingly spouts off one-liners like “boom” whenever he gets to kill like this is all a video game. The problem is that it’s too late once Clean decides to become the dumb and silly action flick it always should have been.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com