Friday July 18, 1997
"Nothing to Lose" is Exhibit A in what's right and what's wrong with current Hollywood comedy. There's no lack of wickedly funny people to place in films, but once they're cast, no one seems to know exactly what to do with them.
Written and directed by Steve Oedekerk, who's written for both Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy, "Nothing to Lose" stars Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins as a pair of opposites-attract guys thrown together by the whim of capricious fate. It's a clever pairing, and the comic skill and presence of the actors are enough to make the film sporadically quite funny.
The problem is that "Nothing to Lose's" exploration of what happens when a tall white advertising executive turns the tables on a short black carjacker is less a plot than a concept, a hook to hang various bits of business on.
Given the strength of the performers, a fair number of these random sequences are seriously funny, but too much of the film does no more than take up space. For not the first time, comedy stars function as the equivalent of special effects, elements whose presence ensures audience turnout and allows the filmmakers to more or less ignore problem areas.
Though he's moved on to directing serious films like "Dead Man Walking," comedy has always been one of Robbins' strong areas as an actor, and "Nothing to Lose" makes good use of his expertise as an irritable straight man, irked and exasperated at the lunatic events that take place around him.
When the film starts, however, Robbins' Nick Beam, secure in the love of his wife (Kelly Preston) and the respect of his boss (Michael McKean), could be the most contented guy in all of L.A. But circumstances conspire to change his point of view, and Nick is so devastated by events he drives around some of the more dangerous parts of town in a seething fog.
Into his GMC Yukon jumps the gun-toting T. Paul (Lawrence), determined to take possession of the vehicle. "You picked the wrong guy on the wrong day," is Nick's furious response as he takes off on a maniacal ride that has T. Paul pleading, "not the sidewalks, people got to walk there."
As the hyperkinetic would-be carjacker, Lawrence ("Bad Boys," "You So Crazy," TV's "Martin") demonstrates once again why he's the livest wire on screen. With the devil in his eyes and cleverness on his tongue, Lawrence is an unstoppable comic imp, equally at home with disbelieving double takes and profane verbal riffs. He has the gift of making every word he says sound funny, a gift the film would be lost without.
The Arizona desert is where this odd couple ends up when Nick finally stops driving, and where circumstances conspire to turn them into a cockeyed criminal team. Somehow they get on the bad side of a pair of real goons (John C. McGinley and Giancarlo Esposito), which leads to nominal complications that drag things out even more.
As a former stand-up and Carrey's collaborator on the scripts for both Ace Venture movies (he directed the sequel), Oedekerk understands the need to get out of the way of talented performers and allow them to simply be funny on screen. But "Nothing to Lose" over-relies on car crashes and plodding physical humor, and never manages to get any consistent comic momentum going.
The film does contain some priceless bits, like an aged hardware store clerk (Patrick Cranshaw) forced to decide whether Nick or T. Paul has the more menacing robbery style. Perhaps the film's funniest sequence, a demented dance routine by a too-cool flashlight-toting security guard, turns out to be performed by the director himself. Nice going, Steve.
Yet aside from these successes, "Nothing to Lose" has nowhere compelling to go, not even when it reveals that T. Paul is a bright solid citizen who has turned to thievery (he calls it "dabbling in future used goods") after an extended job search that failed because he was "not the corporate color."
While it is a small surprise to have even a hint of social consciousness here, that, like too much of the rest of "Nothing to Lose," is too obvious to be effective. It turns out to be easier to put together a racially integrated comedy team than to have a film that feels integral and whole.
Nothing to Lose, 1997. R, for pervasive strong language and a sex scene. A Bregman production, released by Touchstone Pictures. Director Steve Oedekerk. Producers Martin Bregman, Dan Jinks, Michael Bregman. Executive producer Louis A. Stroller. Screenplay Steve Oedekerk. Cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. Editor Malcolm Campbell. Costumes Elsa Zamparelli. Music Robert Folk. Production design Maria Caso. Art directors James J. Murakami, Kevin Constant. Set decorator Cloudia. Running time: 1 hours, 37 minutes. Martin Lawrence as T. Paul. Tim Robbins as Nick Beam. John C. McGinley as Davis "Rig" Lanlow. Giancarlo Esposito as Charlie Dunt. Kelly Preston as Ann. Michael McKean as Phillip Barrow.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times