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'Nothing to Lose:' a shrine to mediocrity

filmstrip July 22, 1997
Web posted at: 3:39 p.m. EDT (1939 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Today's magic word is "mediocrity." This, my friends, is a word that sends shivers down my young movie reviewer spine. I have a problem with mediocrity. It's easy enough to write about a very good film, because, well, because it's a very good film. That only makes sense. It's also easy to write about lousy films, because belligerence makes me talkative. But mediocrity is another story altogether. Remember the last time you saw a so-so movie, and somebody asked you how it was? You said, "Ah, you know. It was okay." Well, I can't do that! I have to write something!

Which brings us to "Nothing to Lose," starring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence. Lawrence plays a black guy named T. Paul, which is sort of like me, but in reverse. That's all I really feel moved to say, but I've already explained the situation. There really is no good reason for this movie to exist, which isn't to say that it's absolutely awful. Not at all. Lawrence is pretty funny doing his mock macho routine, and Tim Robbins is just like Tim Robbins always is. But surely nobody hyperventilated when they read this script. And, just as surely, nobody hyperventilated when watching the daily footage. This movie is a big glass of room temperature water. Out of a faucet. You know that song, "You're the top/You're the Tower of Pisa?" Well, if it had been referring to "Nothing to Lose," it would have gone "You're the middle/You're the nondescript office building down the street/Yeah, that one, right there."

Robbins plays an ad executive (there are only two jobs in the movies -- ad executive and lawyer) who comes home from work early one day and mistakenly thinks he sees his wife (Kelly Preston) having sex with his boss (Michael McKean). He then gets in his car and drives away in a daze, makes a wrong turn, and ends up in a part of town WHERE THEY PLAY RAP MUSIC. This is highly offensive shorthand for a place where economically deprived minorities live. Lawrence hops into Robbins' vehicle while he's at a light, and holds a gun to Robbins' head, looking for money. Robbins will have none of this in his condition, so he quite believably throws his wallet out the window and puts the pedal to the metal. He careens through Los Angeles (I have never, ever laughed at a car chase that wasn't staged 70 years ago in a silent movie) and winds up hauling his would-be victimizer into the middle of the desert. Then they start saying funny things, start kinda likin' each other, and wind up robbing assorted gas stations and quickie marts together.

Makes sense to me.

Anyway, this is now a road movie, and I think there isn't a cheaper form of screenplay that can be written than a road movie. Uninventive directors usually turn these kinds of stories into a series of vignettes, people driving from town to town and doing "stuff." Most of the "stuff" in this one concerns Robbins and Lawrence either shooting at somebody, or getting shot at by Giancarlo Esposito and John C. McGinley. McGinley, just like he does in every other movie he's ever been in, continually wears a sneering expression that seems to indicate he smells poop. It may very well have been "Batman & Robin," which was playing in the adjacent theater.

'Nothing to Lose'
Partial movie trailer:
video icon 1.2M/28 sec. QuickTime movie
Full movie trailer:
icon 2 min., 22 sec. VXtreme streaming video

Director Steve Oedekerk (who also directed "Ace Ventura II: When Nature Calls," and I should probably leave it at that), telegraphs gags like Samuel Morse on a three-day drunk. Here's an example: Robbins is pumping gas into the car when the tank overflows and gets all over his shoes. About 10 minutes later, they're driving down the road and Lawrence mentions that he smells gas. Robbins says it's all over his shoes. Then, Robbins gets a spider in his hair (don't ask), pulls to the side of the road, gets out, and steps on a book of matches. The matches, amazingly enough, strike the asphalt at just the right angle, and ... you'll never guess. They set Robbins' shoes on fire! They should have sent out engraved invitations to this joke. If they had, I would have been busy that weekend.

The two also, while planning to rob Robbins' boss as a revenge tactic, steal flashlights that have AM/FM radios attached to them. I wonder if one of the radios will start playing while they're in the middle of the robbery.

Everything moves along exactly like you expect it to; there are chuckles, but no guffaws. Everything turns out for the best in the end. Also as you expected. Preston and Robbins kiss. Lawrence gets a job, so he doesn't have to rob people anymore. I heard some snoring.

"Nothing to Lose" is about as nondescript as its title, which sounds like a sitcom that everybody but you watches. There is a quick shot of two people coupling (in the Biblical sense; they're not linking up trains), and quite a bit of sometimes amusing profanity. Rated R. 97 minutes.

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