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Movie review: `Nothing to Lose'

July 23, 1997

The buddy movie. It is a genre just as tired as the romantic comedy and the action event, yet there are several released in the course of a year. "Nothing to Lose" surely will prove to be no better or worse than most offerings. The new comedy from Steve Oedekerk (director of the terrible "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls") stars Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence as a white man/black man mismatched duo. You might have seen this movie the first time, when it was called "48 Hours" (or "Another 48 Hours" or "Trading Places," or ... ). The setup is simple and silly enough - ad executive Nick Beam (Robbins), suspecting his wife (Kelly Preston) of having an extramarital dalliance with his boss (Michael McKean), takes off in his car, only to be robbed at gunpoint by T. Paul (Lawrence); he flips and the two begin one wild and crazy adventure.

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All this is suitable for a TV movie of the week, and it proves to be amusing for the most part. The problem is that "Nothing to Lose" is trite, sentimental, conventional, racist and streamlined. It feels not quite like a big-screen adventure, but comes across as movie-ish and wan. The main characters are stereotypes, and the background characters would be stereotypes if they had any dimension. The depiction of African-Americans as lazy and brash is not just cliched but offensive.

Having said all this, there are not too many movies around that are quite as enjoyable as "Nothing to Lose" - though that gregariousness comes at the sacrifice of originality, perspective and storytelling.

The movie is carried by the appealing performances of Robbins and the especially exuberant Lawrence. Playing off each other as, respectively, straight man and loose cannon (and the occasions in which they switch roles), the two actors create a charming comic pas de deux that carries the movie over its patchier parts (which occur quite often).

Along the course of this predictable journey to friendship, the two hatch a plan to rob Nick's boss, who conveniently keeps all of his assets liquid within a safe at the workplace. They pull off the heist, though not before running into two small-time hoods who the police get confused with Nick and T (those kooky cops) and a security guard whose duties entail imitating Michael Jackson and lip-synching to outdated songs. This guard is played by Oedekerk; like the movie itself, the role is diverting but totally unnecessary.

As a director, his comic visions are a bit too broad. He thinks it's really funny to have a Caucasian do something odd and then have an African-American shake his head and say "White people." This might kill `em on the WB, but for major motion-picture entertainment, this doesn't quite cut it. Oedekerk also makes music quite a significant part of "Nothing to Lose," though there are few original songs, and the ones used hardly seem to have some clever correlation to what is taking place on screen. It is as though rather than attending film school, Oedekerk simply downloaded a basic filmmaking formula and henceforth applied this to his movies.

Lawrence and Robbins work their hardest to smooth over the blemishes. Lawrence is constantly mugging - but rather than annoying the audience with his antics, he engages it. Robbins takes a departure from his austere masterwork, "Dead Man Walking" - quite a curious transition - to do some comic hamming. He is not nearly as perfect as he was as Nick Laloosh in the wonderful "Bull Durham," but nothing in "Nothing to Lose" carries a standard of excellence. If you do not go into this movie expecting grand satiric wit ala Moliere, you probably will find yourself smiling and laughing a good deal of the time, despite the PI - politically incorrect - material which fuels "Nothing to Lose."

Two Bags

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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