2022, Unrated, 93 mins.
Adrien Brody as Clean / Glenn Fleshler as Michael / Richie Merritt as Mikey / Chandler Ari DuPont as Dianda / Michelle Wilson as Ethel / John Bianco as Frank / Dinora Walcott as HartleyDirected by Paul Solet / Written by Solet and Adrien Brody
The new crime drama CLEAN was apparently a small scale passion project for Adrien Brody, who not only stars in the film, but also co-wrote and produced it.
After sitting through it I'm left wondering whether or not this Oscar winning actor's passionate drives need to be given a swift audit.
I was frankly
bored senseless by the first twenty or so minutes of CLEAN; its remaining
70 or so proved to be a quick cure for insomnia.
The best way that I would describe this painfully generic and
running on complete autopilot genre exercise is simple: Imagine a JOHN
WICK-inspired revenge tale, but if Wick was a garbage man instead
of a world renowned and feared hitman.
In terms of films about horribly damaged souls with sordid pasts
that are driven back into seedy worlds in order to enact some serious blood-soaked
comeuppance, CLEAN offers up very little - if anything - new to the table,
which unfortunately makes it such a tedious slog to sit through.
Brody is, to be fair, a gifted actor, but he seems wasted here as inner city dweller Clean, who makes a living working lonely and solo graveyard shifts as a garbage collector. He's desperately trying to live the proverbial straight and - ahem! - clean life, but while collecting other people's refuse nightly he grows more and more despondent at the societal decay that he witnesses in front of him (yeah, the writing here is about as subtle as a hammer shot to the baby makers). Clean once had a dirty past life of substance abuse and is haunted by memories of that and his own times with his lost daughter, but he makes every effort possible to keep busy and keep to occupational routines. Much like Travis Bickle before him, Clean relays his thoughts about the crumbling world around him in a voiceover narration track, but here it's so flat footedly executed and preposterously heavy handed that it almost comes off like it's spoofing films like TAXI DRIVER. He comments on the "endless onslaught of ugliness" in his city, and then relays "No matter how hard I try, I can't wash away the past."
Someone should have washed away this screenplay with a better
Also like Bickle,
Clean sets his sights on becoming a protector of a young girl, Diandra
(Chandler DuPont), a local teen that lives in a world of thugs and
gangsters that needs some sort of help and intervention.
One of the more odious criminal elements in the town is Michael
(Glenn Fleshler), who has anointed himself to be a kingpin of his neighborhood
that peddles drugs via his fish market...and has no problem making his
enemies - ahem! - sleep with the fishes (oh God...this
screenplay!). Michael has a
son, Mikey (Richie Merritt, so solid in the much better and mostly
forgotten crime drama WHITE BOY RICK),
who just got out of the slammer and gets cozy with the local gangsters.
It becomes painfully obvious that Clean won't be able to sit idly
by with these nefarious elements so close to him, and he's drawn back into
this dreadful underworld when he comes to Diandra's defense and saves her
from being gang raped by bashing all of the perpetrators with his trusty
wrench (ouch). Clean also, in
the process, bludgeons the face in of Mikey himself, and when his papa in
Michael finds out he decides that Clean must be taken out via some
hellishly violent means, but seems unaware that this task will be tough.
Clean will most certainly - ahem! - get his hands seriously
Why is CLEAN so
painfully boring? That question tainted my mind all throughout my screening.
It takes an awfully long time for this script to generate much of a
pulse of interest, and by that time I was so quickly tuning out to the
events, characters, and their obligatory final act clash that I simply
found it hard to care. This
is a film that frequently wages a war within itself as to what kind of
story it's trying to tell. Brody
and director Paul Solet seem interested in the salvation arc for Clean and
try as they can to unravel the inherent mysteries of this broken man with
flashbacks throughout, but they become less and less interested in an
insular character study the longer their story progresses.
For the most part, CLEAN seems to be aggressively leaning towards
shock and awe carnage, bloodshed and retrograde, midnight movie grindhouse
thrills. I think I would have
been more willing to submit myself to this film if it just fully embraced
its inherent B-movie trashiness, but the makers here feel reticent to do
so. They wish to have it both
ways in terms of wanting CLEAN to offer a compelling and gripping portrait
of angst and cheap exploitation thrills.
Neither tonal hemisphere works well.
And, boy oh boy,
does CLEAN ever want to be a JOHN WICK-ian player in the genre, but never
once feels equal to the challenge. Aside
from obvious ripped off elements (hey, the main character here is a canine
loving killer!), CLEAN tries to lazily appropriate elements from the
aforementioned Martin Scorsese mid-70s classic in telling a story of an
unhinged man of the streets driven to action by his self-righteous mission
to cleanse all of the unsavory elements around him.
Instead of being a cabbie, Clean is a garbage man.
That's the extent of this film's concept of innovation in the genre
space, I guess. And, of
course, Solet is most definitely not Scorsese and here he employs a lot of
head scratching creative choices, like a totally distracting usage of
unnecessary slow-motion in would-be tense set-pieces and a hip hop
soundtrack that makes CLEAN feel like a direct to video feature from a
couple of decades ago (it also seems stylistically incongruent from the
type of story being told here). When the film does go all-in for explosive violence it should
have served as a much needed jump start to the heart of the story, but
instead just becomes numbing to sit through.
And good luck staying awake through most of it.