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Tucson Weekly Nuthin' Special

'Nothing To Lose' Is Just Another Trite Buddy Flick

By Stacey Richter

July 14, 1997:  IF YOU WERE a movie director, and the last movie you directed (and wrote) was the cash cow Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and therefore you found yourself in a position to make any movie you wanted, with impunity, what would you do? Would you re-make a Bergman classic with midgets in all the principal roles? Film your sadistic high-school math teacher eating gravy with a fork? Finally make a movie version of Steve Miller's "The Joker"? Or would you do what Steve Oedekerk did, and make another buddy movie about the hi-jinxs of a black guy and white guy who, through a series of misadventures, learn just a little bit about themselves, race, and class in America by the time the closing credits roll?

It's not that Nothing to Lose is inept, or pandering, or stupid; a respected reporter from a Tucson alternative news weekly said of it: "I think it was a funny movie." It definitely has its moments. The problem with Nothing to Lose is that it's so formulaic and safe it's a little revolting. Also, the thing is so light that I can barely remember it, even though I saw it only a few days ago. But as I recall it was, at times, funny; it was also predictable, sentimental and excruciatingly unbelievable.

Nothing to Lose is the story of Nick Beam (Tim Robbins, of all people), a happily married ad man having a very, very bad day. His wife is deeply perfect in every way save one: She's apparently bedding his boss. When Beam discovers them together, he takes to his sport utility vehicle and, stricken with grief, rolls through the streets of L.A. until he ends up in Compton or Watts or someplace: a bad neighborhood. There is an attempted carjack by T. Paul (Martin Lawrence), but Beam is incapable of being carjacked because he has just discovered he's being cuckolded by his perfect wife and he doesn't want to live. It's tough to threaten a guy who wishes he were dead.

This premise is pretty great; there are times, certainly, when grief or insanity place regular people outside the sphere of regular behavior, and it seems like this could make for some entertaining, unusual pieces of film. Martin Scorsese's After Hours is in this vein; it successfully creates a bubble of insanity that grows more strange and labyrinthine until, at the end, it seems downright odd to see people behaving predictably again. Oedekerk seems to have had After Hours in mind; he attempts to create the same kind of loopy characters and paranoid, interconnected plot line, but instead of forming a delicate bubble of insanity, Oedekerk plops one coincidence on top of another until the plot becomes annoying and unbelievable. Throw in a few sentimental scenes of sleepy children and you can kiss away any chance that the odd wackiness that occasionally spikes in NTL might become cohesive. This isn't a movie about a crazy world; it's just a movie with a string of crazy events.

You see, Beam isn't only un-carjackable, he's distraught; i.e., a wild man! He drives T. out to the middle of the desert because he feels like it. They make it to Arizona. Beam has lobbed his wallet out the window, which I guess is supposed to make him and T. more equal or something, though he could obviously get some cash, or get his credit cards reissued. They fight in the dirt--unclear why. More unlikely and avoidable adventures ensue; the two men grow closer, eventually driving back to Los Angeles where they plan to commit a crime.

Let's not forget that one guy is poor, black and from the ghetto, while the other is a privileged white guy. I guess it's become a convention of this genre to reduce questions of race and class to the most sanitized of issues. Like a romance where the boy and girl must overcome an obstacle before getting together in the end, these buddy movies toss race and class in as a cute little hurdle that must be overcome before the guys can really get down to some serious bonding. T. Paul is a hard-working genius who'd love to stop robbing but just needs a lucky break; Nick Beam is a good-hearted guy who doesn't even realize he has more stuff than most people on the planet. In the end, we're just getting the same old buddy movie; Nothing to Lose may be cuter or funnier than some, but it's nothing special.

Nothing to Lose opens locally on Friday, July 18.

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