Dana Carvey makes a serious bid for comic movie stardom with "Clean Slate," which allows him to doff his clownish "Wayne's World" look for a leading man persona. And he handles the role well, though the script and direction let him down.
Carvey plays Maurice Pogue, a womanizing private detective who has lost his memory. In fact, he loses his memory every night when he falls asleep, awakening the next morning without any idea who he is or why he's under attack by an array of apparent strangers.
It seems Pogue is the lone witness to a murder by a mobster named Cornell (Michael Gambon). So, while the district attorney (James Earl Jones) and the assistant D.A. assigned to the case (Kevin Pollak) hope Pogue will be ready to testify against Cornell in a few days, Pogue is having trouble remembering which of those older ladies in the retirement home is his mother, and whether his ex-wife's baby belongs to him or her second husband.
Enter a femme fatale named Sarah . . . or is it Beth . . . (Valeria Golino, of the "Hot Shots" movies), who introduces a plot point involving a $7 million ancient coin that has been stolen from a museum.
Meanwhile, day after day, Pogue wakes up to complete bewilderment and must start all over again as he tries to figure things out.
An obvious variation on "Ground-hog Day," which was itself a comic twist on "12:01," a "Twilight Zone"-style short film, "Clean Slate" has some amusing bits of business and one hilarious, scene-stealing character. But most of Robert King's first produced screenplay is comprised of weak, warmed-over silly slapstick. And director Mick Jackson ("The Bodyguard," "L.A. Story") seems at sea with the material, as potentially funny sequences are thrown away with lousy timing especially the climactic, chaotic courtroom scene. (See "What's Up, Doc?" or "Bringing Up Baby" for better examples of how to work up a comic frenzy in court.)
Carvey, who has attempted movie stardom before (anyone remember "Opportunity Knocks"?), comes off well enough, as does Golino both try gamely to make things work. But Jones is given little to do, and Pollak's big comic moments are mishandled.
By the way, the character who steals several scenes is Pogue's dog, which wears an eyepatch and has a depth-perception problem.
Maybe that's also the director's problem.
"Clean Slate" is rated PG-13 for violence, sex, profanity, vulgarity and brief partial nudity.