Renny Harlin was once a reliable director of over-the-top action fare, such as "The Long Kiss Goodnight", "Deep Blue Sea" and others. However, films like "Driven" and "Mindhunters" flopped (not to mention Harlin's involvement with the deeply troubled "Exorcist: The Beginning"), and other action directors seemed to be taking Harlin's place.
The direct-to-DVD "The Cleaner" is Harlin's latest, and it's a low-key thriller/mystery that pulls in "Sea" and "Goodnight" star Samuel L. Jackson, who stars as Tom Carver, a former police officer who now cleans up after crime scenes. He soon finds out that he's cleaned up a scene that no one seems to know about yet... Soon enough, he finds himself embroiled in a mystery where he's the accused - as the man's wife (Eva Mendes) and a detective (Luis Guzman) start asking questions. The one man Tom thinks he can turn to is his old friend and current cop, Eddie (Ed Harris).
The remainder of the brief picture sees Tom trying to piece together the clues before he can be taken in. There's not much more to it than that, and there's even parts of the story that could have been left on the editing room floor: Tom's relationship with his daughter is never developed particularly well and, in a movie that's only 89 minutes, could have been one of the elements dropped in order to give the movie a little focus. Another of the film's main issues is the fact that it seems so withdrawn, and while a low-key mystery can certainly be done well, there's a point where the audience starts to lose interest.
While only 89 minutes, "The Cleaner" feels like a lot longer, as both the story and Harlin's style add up to the picture feeling draggy and slow, especially in the middle. While Harlin has demonstrated himself to be a confident big-budget director, he doesn't seem to have as sure a hand with this material, and his directorial style doesn't quite manage it the subtler, grittier look it requires.
The performances aren't really the problem, as Jackson and Harris give their all in excellent efforts. Guzman and the rapidly improving Mendes also try their hardest in supporting efforts, but the thin - and rather predictable - story simply never generates much steam.
VIDEO: "Cleaner" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Picture quality isn't spectacular, but the picture did at least deliver consistently above-average quality throughout the running time. Sharpness and detail are mostly very good, although a few shots did appear slightly softer on occasion.
Some minor edge enhancement was spotted at times, as were a few minor traces of pixelation. Still, the picture did appear mostly clean and clear. The film's desaturated color palette looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation went along with the movie and stayed rather low-key, with minimal surround use aside from a couple of more distinct effects and some minor ambience. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Harlin offers up an enjoyably chatty commentary for the picture. While I can't say I liked his work here, he certainly provided an informative and interesting discussion of his interest in the material, as well as an overview of production obstacles and concerns. We also get deleted scenes and previews for other titles from the studio. There is also a digital copy that can be transferred to a PC.
Final Thoughts: "The Cleaner" offers strong performances from an all-star cast, but they're in service of a thin, rather dull script from first-time screenwriter Matthew Aldrich. The DVD offers good audio/video quality and a few nice supplemental features. Fans of the actors may want to consider a rental.
The Film C-