A film review by Craig J. Koban February 9, 2022

CLEAN j

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 Hartley

Directed 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."  

Ouch.  Someone should have washed away this screenplay with a better re-write. 

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 dirty. 

 

 

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. 

No more is this apparent during the film's horribly telegraphed final act, which showcases Clean going up against Michael and his goon squad while utilizing many improvised weapons.  I have nothing against actors like Brody - perhaps not well known or appreciated for brawny action roles - that go outside of their element to try to become authentically rendered bad assed action heroes (call it the Liam Neeson Effect).  But the final battles in CLEAN have none of the consummate polish and silky smooth choreography of the JOHN WICK films it's so eager to emulate.  The sound design here is effectively brutal in engaging our wince response, and there is some modest enjoyment in seeing Brody's titular vigilante take out the waves upon waves of thugs, but there's so little inspiration in these moments.  CLEAN is like a recycle factory of the revenge thriller genre, and it's all so shamelessly derivative and misguidedly dull that why Brody would want to lend his name to the project - let alone spearhead its creation - is beyond me.  If you've seen one film about violent men wanting to atone for their pasts that get placed on a collision course with returning to violence then you've seen them all, and CLEAN's slavish adherence to well worn formulas has no bounds.  

And good luck staying awake through most of it.  

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