Tuesday, September 15, 2009


If you’ve seen the trailer for the Tim Robbins & Martin Lawrence caper comedy “Nothing to Lose” (*1/2 out of ****) you’ve caught the best parts of the show. This asinine interracial comedy of errors about an odd couple who buddy up and resort to crime sparkles only when comic genius Martin Lawrence excretes his trademark scatological ghetto routines. “Nothing to Lose” runs low on laughs because writer & director Steve Oedekerk devotes greater effort to promoting it as a play on morality rather than an exercise in hilarity.

Oedekerk directed “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” so the guy must have some idea about what tickles the funny bone. Sadly, he has warmed up a soupy script teeming with coincidental strokes of luck, mistaken identities, rabid improbabilities, and formula plot twists. “Nothing to Lose” uses the hackneyed story about the hero who thinks that he saw something that he never actually saw. Drawing the wrong set of conclusions, he brings disaster to a boil. The Tim Robbins character in “Nothing to Lose” follows this recipe for fiasco and finds himself in the soup. Eventually, Robbins learns that everything is not always quite what it seems. By this time, the Robbins character is chin deep in excrement. Miraculously, the movie formula itself dictates some cornball reversal to restore the status quo without any dire consequences for the hero.

Advertising executive Nick Beam (Tim Robbins) has a fun job, a loyal wife, and a flaky boss who collects erotic pottery. Nick and wife Ann (Kelly Preston) play games where they tease each other about divorce and extramarital sex. One day Nick gets home early and finds Ann in bed with his boss Philip Barrow (Michael McKean). Too stunned to interrupt them, Nick backs out the door. He cruises through a four-way stop sign without braking, stalls out freeway traffic, and then exits on an off-ramp into a dangerous African-American neighborhood. You know you’re in danger in a black neighborhood in a movie when you hear gangsta rap music on the soundtrack. When Nick isn’t paying attention, Terrence Davidson (Martin Lawrence of “Bad Boys”) tries to carjack him. “You picked the wrong guy on the wrong day,” Nick smirks. Not even the gun shoved in his nose can deter the now reckless Nick. Locking the doors, he subjects Terry to a careening, suicidal rampage through the city. Along the way, Nick pitches his wallet so Terry cannot steal it. Ultimately, they wind up in Arizona.

After a scuffle at a desert restaurant, Nick agrees to drive Terry home. At an isolated gas station, Nick pumps while Terry pays. Nick looks up and realizes to his horror that Terry is holding up the gas station. When Nick tries to flee, he discovers that Terry has taken the keys. The irritated redneck armed with a shotgun chases our tainted heroic duo in his wrecker. Our heroes miraculously escape not only the redneck but also a state trooper. That part appears in the trailer, too. Nick lectures Terry about the immorality of crime and then suggests that he wear a mask for his robberies. The gun that Terry brandished on Nick, as it turns out, was empty. Nick also advises Terry to go for the big haul. Inspiration ignites Nick’s memory. His boss has a safe crammed with big bucks. Nick knows how to get into it. Reluctantly, Nick takes Terry on as his partner in crime to buy his silence.

At the next gas station, Terry pumps and Nick pays. The paranoid gas station clerk gets the drop on Nick when he spots Terry’s gun tucked into his belt. Nick pulls a fast one, gets the drop on the clerk, pays for the gas, and they leave. Meanwhile, an unsavory pair of thugs, Lanlow (John C. McGinley of “The Rock”) and Charlie (Giancarlo Esposito of “Malcolm X”), spot Nick and Terry. These thugs think that Nick and Terry are trying to muscle in on their turf. After the state trooper had his collision with the redneck in the wrecker, he issues an APB for these guys, not our clueless protagonists. Lanlow and Charlie waylay our heroes. Nick and Terry manage to escape them and pinch every dollar out of Philip’s safe. Not content to settle for cash, Nick breaks Philip’s favorite fertility statue. To savor his revenge, Nick stands in front of the surveillance camera and removes his mask.

Believe it or not, everything in “Nothing to Lose” resolves itself happily at fadeout. Indeed, this comedy belongs in the happy endings category. Steve Oedekerk’s script rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior. The problem is that everything in “Nothing to Lose” is so unlikely and outlandish that it is stupid! If these characters didn’t act dumb, there’d be no “Nothing to Lose.” First, if Nick and Ann always play jokes on each other, why wouldn’t Nick crash their party? Oedekerk sets up a premise and then knocks it down. Later, Nick decides to pursue a life of crime because his wife dumped him. Terry and he rob a couple of stores, but nobody gets hurt. The hardware store robbery for a bag and two flashlights is pretty funny. Neither Nick nor Terry assails innocent bystanders. They are the heroes. Terry’s wife considers Nick a good role model for her errant and unemployed husband. But it’s Terry’s criminal response to life’s dislocations that Nick imitates until he recovers his senses. Nevertheless, in the long run, our heroes suffer not for their crimes.

Oedekerk sets up the hapless pair of thugs who try to thwart our heroes. Guess who gets stuck with their crimes? So what’s the difference between these guys? Hollywood movies give the benefit of the doubt to characters with families, but they don’t give an inch to individuals. Lanlow and Charlie are career criminals while Nick and Terry are exceptions to the rule, the Hollywood rule for happy endings and good role models. Although “Nothing to Lose” condones Nick and Terry’s criminal behavior, the movie discourages Lanlow and Charlie’s criminal behavior. Moreover, since Nick and Terry cannot be held accountable for their crimes, Hollywood dictates the heroes must be absolved or else nobody would be like them. Giving back the dough exempts Nick and Terry.

“Nothing to Lose” depends on coincidence. Nick’s gasoline sodden shoes are a typical example. When Nick drenches his shoes in gas, there is a scene where he dances in the road and steps on a conveniently placed book of matches. Now, Nick is dancing in the road because he felt a spider run across his face so he is dancing about when he scruffs those matches and torches his toes. Okay, Nick’s stomp the asphalt fiery dance routine is amusing, but it strains credibility. Incidentally, the gimmick with the alarm keyboard punch pad in Philip’s office doesn’t work that way in real life.

Tim Robbins appears to sleep walk through his yuppie, straight man role. He looks and acts a lot like Blondie’s Dagwood Bumstead from the newspaper funnies. Teaming up a tyke-sized Martin Lawrence with the tall, lanky Robbins might have seemed inspirational, but little of that inspiration pays off. Robbins and Lawrence have none of the chemistry that Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy conjured up in the “48 HRS” flicks. However, Lawrence provides “Nothing to Lose” with the best lines, far too profane to be repeated here. If you enjoy Lawrence’s antics, “Nothing to Lose” isn’t a total waste of time. Since he cannot find a job, Terry turns to crime. “Nothing to Lose” spends some of its 97-minutes with Lawrence’s Terry character complaining about the class structure of our society that discriminates against African-Americans. To ameliorate Terry’s rhetoric, the filmmakers give him a wife, two kids, and a mean mother who likes to slap him.

John C. McGinley and Giancarlo Esposito register well as the bad guys who are mistaken for our heroes. The scene in their battered car where Giancarlo lectures McGinley about the essence of classical music is a hoot! Unfortunately, “Nothing to Lose” erupts with only sporadic humor. Our heroes spend a lot of time snapping at each other. They don’t have the time to be funny because the story is too busy shuffling them around the game board of movie morality where they can commit crimes without being classified criminals, much less punished. The scene where a security cop discos to the strobe lights could have been left on the editing room floor as well as Nick’s ill-fated fling with Danielle (Rebecca Gayheart), an office worker who worships him from afar. You’ll have “Nothing to Lose” if you skip this lame comedy.

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