Nothing to Lose

(Comedy-adventure color)

There's too much banter and bickering, and not enough wild humor or exciting action in Nothing to Lose, a mildly entertaining movie that tries too hard to be too many things: a smart interracial “buddy buddy” movie, a moralistic family drama, a madcap road adventure. Pic's best–and most marketable–asset is its cast, the inspired pairing of Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, who work well together, though neither gets much opportunity to display his considerable talents. Touchstone's midsummer comedy, released in an overly crowded marketplace, should enjoy a decent opening and mid-range numbers in domestic theatrical.

A variation of the male buddy genre, Nothing to Lose desperately aspires to belong to the popular crime-adventures that have teamed black and white actors, such as Walter Hill's 48 HRS, with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, and recent action comedies like Bad Boys, which co-starred Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

Nick Beame (Robbins) is a successful advertising exec and a happily married man–that is, until he comes home early one Friday afternoon to find his loving wife, Ann (Kelly Preston), in bed with a man whose face is invisible. In a state of catatonic shock, Nick drives away, barely able to control the steering wheel and nearly causing an accident while driving 15 mph on the freeway. A moment later, sitting blank-faced at a traffic light, a fast-talking carjacker named T. Paul (Lawrence) shoves a gun in his face.

“You picked the wrong guy on the wrong day,” says Nick, and in a surprising move turns the tables on the mugger, taking him hostage. Hence begins the first chapter of an unlikely friendship between two men who could not have been more different in class, profession, and lifestyle. The yarn that follows is a hodgepodge, replete with hold-ups, mistaken identities and revenge fantasies against corporate America.

As if one odd couple is not enough, Nick and T. Paul's path is periodically crisscrossed with another interracial pair of bumbling criminals, David 'Rig' Lanlow (John C. McGuinley) and Charlie Dunt (Giancarlo Esposito), who're also sought after by the police.

Pic is meant to be a brisk, spontaneous, high-spirited comedy-adventure, but instead what unfolds onscreen is yet another Odd Couple yarn. Helmer Steve Oedekerk, who catapulted Jim Carrey to international stardom in the Ace Ventura films, is deft at writing individual scenes, but not a coherent script that can sustain high-voltage momentum for a feature-length movie. Vastly uneven, his erratic film vacillates between funny, offbeat episodes, tediously moralistic lectures about civic duties and warm-hearted arguments about marital responsibilities.

After the first hour, Oedekerk suddenly realizes that his neglect of women might alienate female viewers in the audience, so he arranges for T. Paul a homecoming scene to his wife and children, and an unexpected date for Nick in what's the fakest scene of the film.

The whole comedy suffers from a secondhand, self-conscious approach. This is evident in an armed robbery scene, in which Nick and T. Paul employ different strategies and then ask an old bewildered salesman (Patrick Cranshaw) to evaluate their respective performances. And when the couple finally rob the vault of Nick's company and their radio accidentally gets turned on, the security guard bursts into an endless song-and-dance number, which dealys the duo's escape from the building; Nick, in fact, falls asleep.

The chief fun in this movie derives from the occasional spurts of Lawrence's comic genius, his brilliant timing in delivering droll one-liners. Stuck with a more difficult and thankless role, the straight-faced yuppie with a dark penchant for vengeance, Robbins is decent, though he's too intelligent to play such a part. Gifted character actors McGinely and Esposito are quite wasted, and with the exception of Irma P. Hall, who makes a great entrance as a bossy matriarch, the other women have little to do.

Donald E. Thorin's lensing is sharp, but Malcolm Campbell's choppy editing accentuates the excessively fractured and episodic nature of the material.