Clean Slate – the Official Nerfed Llamas Review
Full Disclosure: I love Dana Carvey! Sincerely, I believe with all my heart that he was the single best talent that ever came from Saturday Night Live, with Bill Murray a very close second. He won an Emmy for his work at SNL performing and creating such amazing characters like the Church Lady, Hans, Garth, George Bush, and the Grumpy Old Man, to name a few. So nobody was more thrilled than myself, when Mr. Carvey started headlining films in the early 90’s. Opportunity Knocks was very funny, and although not the be-all-end-all comedy film of the century, it was certainly a good enough film to start his movie career. Unfortunately, Opportunity Knocks was not the box office success that Universal Pictures had hoped it would be. Then the Wayne’s World movie happened, which was well received at the box office, making Michael Myers a household name and potentially relaunching Carvey’s popularity with movie going audiences. Wayne’s World 2 did not fair as well a year later, only just barely making back its budget in the box office. 1994 brought us 2 more Carvey films, Trapped in Paradise and Clean Slate. Trapped in Paradise was a fun ensemble comedy with Nicholas Cage and Jon Lovitz that did not do well in the box office either.
If any of Dana Carvey’s films were destined for greatness, it would have been Clean Slate. It had a great premise, an amazing cast, a ton of spot on comedy, a classic film feeling, and an extraordinary jazz score by Alan Silvestri. All of the puzzle pieces were there, and Mick Jackson – the director (of L.A. Story and the Bodyguard fame) did a tremendous job of baking all of the ingredients into a great movie, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Try though they might, Dana Carvey was not destined for film superstardom. Clean Slate did not become a hit at the box office, and shortly after Carvey backed away from film to dedicate himself to spending time with his family and raising his children. He still performs in a variety of projects, from TV to film, usually as a special guest star. He has also returned to host SNL 4 times, which have all been excellent as well, but I digress…
What’s It All About? In Clean Slate Dana Carvey stars as M.L. Pogue, a private detective that has been in terrible incident that has resulted in him having retrograde amnesia. Essentially, he can’t remember anything that’s ever happened to him when he wakes up in the morning. It’s a horrible way to have to live, but he has a plan! He makes a recording each night describing who he is, what his profession is, what he needs to do, and most importantly reassuring himself that he doesn’t need to panic. This is where the comedy starts almost immediately. Pogue always says to not talk to anybody and to not leave his home, and each day he talks to a whole bunch of people and leaves his home. He’s clearly no good at being an amnesiac. Pogue is the key witness in a major case against Philip Cornell, a wealthy man who is suspected of a variety of criminal activities, but has been successful at keeping the authorities from finding any concrete proof. Pogue has the proof, if only he can remember it! On top of that, Pogue finds himself entangled with a Sarah Novak, a woman who by all accounts should be dead and is wanted by a the FBI. Sarah swears that she and Pogue are romantically involved and that he is helping her, but something feels off. With the District Attorney’s office breathing down his neck to testify, Cornell trying to get to him, Sarah asking for his assistance, and his memories possibly gone forever, Pogue has to try and make heads or tails of each new scenario from the perspective of a man who hardly knows anything or anyone at all. Review the following trailer:
Speaking of the cast, I feel that it is only fair to mention that the cast for this film is top notch. Not only did it feature Dana Carvey at the top of his game both comedically and as a relatable every man, but it also featured great performances by the following actors:
- Valeria Golino – a wonderful Italian actress that has appeared in Rain Man, Hot Shots!, Escape From LA, Four Rooms and Frida. She plays Sarah Novak, with a wonderful effortlessness that oozes sensuality and charm. Her chemistry with Carvey is apparent the moment they are on screen together and keeps the film exciting to watch.
- James Earl Jones – The celebrated actor, voice of Darth Vadar and Mufasa, and featured in numerous films including the Great White Hope, Conan the Barbarian, Coming to America, and many of the Hollywood adapted Tom Clancy Jack Ryan films. In Clean Slate he plays Dolby, a disabled District Attorney with an electric wheel chair and a jovial sense of humor. Jones, as always is a scene stealer, and his voice is out of this world. A delight to watch.
- Kevin Pollak – one time roommate with Dana Carvey way back in the day, he has performed in many high profile movies, such as A Few Good Men, Deterrence, and the Usual Suspects. Pollak plays the roll District Attorney Rosenhiem, a neurotic man who needs Pogue to help him find out who his Fiance is cheating on him with. Pollock has fantastic comedy timing, and he and Carvey play very well off of each other ensuring that their scenes are filled with fun and lots of laughs.
- The following actors also put in good, if not brief appearances in the film: Olivia d’Abo, Jayne Brook, Michael Murphy, and Gailard Sartain.
- Also of note is the appearance of the following actors before they became notable: Michael Gambon before he became Dumbledore in Harry Potter films. Chris Meloni before he became NYPD Detective on Law & Order: SVU for 12 seasons. Finally, a small turn by Bryan Cranston way before he became Walter White in Breaking Bad.
The score for Clean Slate is nothing short of magical. Alan Silvestri put up a top notch effort, skillfully crafting a jazz infused sound that hearkens back to the noir crime stories of old, while still remaining fresh and modern. It is an airy balance, but one that he pulls off with amazing style. Take a moment to listen to this sample of some of the tracks featured in Clean Slate, which is available on CD if you are in the mood for these kind of tunes:
What I Didn’t Like: There are a few issues to sort out in Clean Slate, however nothing of any major importance – my complaints are more along the lines of wishing there was more movie to watch. At 107 minutes long, Clean Slate tells a story that clips along at a pretty brisk rate. It would have been nice to have had more content in the film, especially in relation to Sarah Novak’s past, the incident that took Pogue’s memory and Pogue’s relationship with the main characters that would have given the film some breathing room. There are a lot of plot details that are explained in a sentence or two in passing, and it just feels like there was a lot of stuff cut from the film for the final cut. Again, I clearly enjoyed this movie thoroughly, so I’m certainly not knocking the final cut of the film, just stating that it seems like there is some content that was cut that would have benefited the viewer and made the film more cohesive. Really, that’s about it. I just wish there was more movie to break up the pacing and give the characters more time to develop.
Bottom Line: Clean Slate is fun movie with engaging characters, great laughs, and wonderful music. The plot is fresh and intriguing, and the mystery has more than enough twist and turns to keep you guessing throughout the movie. It is a delightful throwback to the noir gumshoe films of the 1940’s and 1950’s. If you are in the mood for a character driven comedy that feels like a classic Hollywood film from another generation, then Clean Slate may be the droid that your are looking for. Regardless, it is a fabulous comedy and well worth your time and your personal collection. Released recently on Blu-Ray by Olive Films, you can buy Clean Slate now!