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Nothing To Lose

By Devin D. O'Leary

July 21, 1997:  Nope. I have no clue either whose idea it was to team indie film actor/writer/director/producer Tim Robbins (of Dead Man Walking fame) with gun-wielding TV comic Martin Lawrence (of "Martin" fame). After actually seeing their new comic romp Nothing To Lose, though, I'm forced to admit that the pairing isn't as disastrous as it would seem.

Robbins plays Nick Beam, a well-dressed L.A. yuppie with what seems like an envious life--nice car, good job, beautiful wife. One fateful day, though, he comes home early to find his wife in bed with his boss. Oops. Depressed to the point of catatonia, Nick drives his nice car aimlessly around Los Angeles only to find himself lost somewhere in East L.A. Enter plot point number one. T. Paul (Martin Lawrence) is an unemployed father of two out looking for a quick cash score. He has the misfortune of trying to carjack our depressed yuppie. As Nick deadpans, "Boy did you pick the wrong guy on the wrong day." Nick locks the doors, steps on the gas and gives poor T. Paul the ride of his life. By next morning, the unlikely duo are in the middle of the Arizona desert. T. Paul offers to forget this whole "kidnapping" incident, if Nick will just return him to some familiar environments. Over the course of their desert escapades, Nick criticizes T. Paul's crappy criminal skills. "Try wearing a mask!" he offers. By the time the two are done arguing, beating each other up and engaging in other typical bouts of male bonding, Nick has hatched a foolproof plan to get back at his evil wife-stealing boss. With the help of his nefarious new friend, he's going to rip off a cool hundred grand from his boss' office safe. Naturally, nothing goes as planned.

Director Steve Oedekerk is a master of making his audience laugh at the dumbest stuff. He started off as a writer for the cutting-edge sketch comedy show "In Living Color," went on to pen Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor and did his first directing turn on Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. Nothing To Lose is filled with foolish pratfalls--Robbins hopping around with his shoes on fire, Lawrence dangling off a hotel balcony--most of which shouldn't be funny but somehow succeed in extracting a chuckle or two. One scene in which Robbins and Lawrence "practice" their craft by knocking over a hardware store and get into an argument over whose style is more menacing is a screamer.

Robbins is a great comedian and a fine "everyman" actor. He's above this sort of sitcom fodder, but he's good at it nonetheless. Toss Ted Danson in the role of Nick Beam, and I'm sure I couldn't have stayed glued to my seat. Martin Lawrence is far from my favorite funnyman--though he's far less irritating here than he is on his (now canceled) FOX comedy. Lawrence prefers to mug for the camera and make a lot of funny faces. Fortunately, he gets that out of his system fairly early here and is forced to actually "act" once the subplots start flying. The subplots--including the one about Lawrence really being a nice family guy at the end of his rope--are pretty standard issue. Fortunately writer/director Oedekerk never lets this cheese-flavored melodrama run on for very long before throwing in some laugh-getting material--like T. Paul's slap-happy mama (Irma P. Hall in the film's most memorable role). Another subplot involving a pair of evil criminals seems like an afterthought. The bad guys--one black, one white--seem custom-designed for a case of "mistaken identity" which never actually materializes. As it is, they just provide a few complications for our bumbling crook heroes.

Nothing To Lose is a tolerable divertissement. Most viewers will spot the tidy happy ending coming from a mile away. By then, though, most will have gotten their money's worth in cheap chuckles. Stick around after the credits for a bonus laugh.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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