Touchstone/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 94 mins .
M15+ . PAL
It’s late at night, deep in the bowels of a luxurious office building in a Hollywood studio compound. An executive stands to address his colleagues at a strategy meeting that’s been going for hours and threatens to continue until the sun rises over the city where movie history gets made. “I’ve got an idea,” he says excitedly. “And it can’t fail.”
The execs listen keenly as the man of the moment makes his pitch. “Okay, there’s this uptight, rich white guy with the perfect life, right? And then there’s this street-smart, wise-cracking black guy whose own life is going down the tubes fast. The black guy tries to rob the white guy, and they end up forming an unlikely but hilarious duo that go on a wacky crime spree as they discover more and more about each other and find that they’ve actually got a lot in common. And they both get redeemed so nobody can be offended.”
“Brilliant!” comes the simultaneous cry from the assembled execs. “That’s hardly EVER been done before! Greenlight it, and make sure you get us someone like Eddie Murphy to star in it. Preferably someone like Eddie Murphy, but cheaper. The public are gonna go wild for this! And let’s call it Nothing to Lose - nobody’s used that title for years! And it’ll work in France without translation problems - we can call it Nothing Toulouse there, as long as we make sure a walk-on character has that name. Brilliant!”
And so the film gets made. The character of Pierre “Nothing” Toulouse, though, is lost at the editing stage. Nobody notices.
"Now, tell us again how much you liked the movie..."
Nick Beam (Tim Robbins) is a successful, amiable white guy working at a large corporate firm. He’s good buddies with the boss, which only makes things a bit more painful when he catches said boss in bed with his wife (Kelly Preston). He walks out, drives around town in a daze, and is promptly carjacked by Terrence “T” Davidson (Martin Lawrence). Somewhat miffed, he locks Terrence in the car and drives to Arizona, where they annoy some rednecks and hatch a plan to rob Nick’s boss of everything he owns in the ultimate gesture of revenge. Much wackiness happens, as the pair find themselves becoming friends and changing each others’ lives for the better.
This generic, predictable and thoroughly comedy-free “comedy” has only one thing going for it - Tim Robbins. Always watchable and certainly above this material, Robbins manages to make Nick Beam at least vaguely interesting and while he seems almost embarrassed by the material at times, he gives it his best shot. Lawrence, meanwhile, does his trademark shtick on a script that takes every single cliché from this genre and wraps it up in the one character. The self-conscious and laboured script and direction - both by Steve Oedekerk, who previously directed the second Ace Ventura movie, tries too hard to squeeze humour out of situations that are so familiar that they’re just not funny any more. Sequences that do have real comedic potential are left undeveloped - like the sensitive, emotional personalities of the otherwise tough-as-nails armed robbers that chase Our Heroes (one of whom is played by the terrific John C. McGinley, currently being bitingly hilarious in the TV series Scrubs). Even the post-end-credits “joke” falls flat.
Lacking in all the elements which make comedy work - timing, chemistry, actual jokes - Nothing to Lose ends up being just a passable way to throw away 90 minutes of your life without having to actually think. Just don’t expect to actually laugh.
The end credits boldly state “filmed in Panavision”, but fear not - that’s a mistake. Nothing to Lose was filmed with a 1.85:1 theatrical ratio in mind, and what you get on this anamorphic DVD is a teensy bit more at the top and bottom - this 1.78:1 transfer opens up the matte slightly to match the full 16:9 aspect ratio. Like most Buena Vista transfers, this one’s solid and reliable, with the company’s tell-tale vibrancy there in abundance. However, it’s not up to the current state of the video art; probably done back in 1997 when the film was made, the transfer displays a slight “gauze” over the image that’s a common sight in many transfers from the early and mid-’90s, and everything appears to be just a little soft. But colour saturation is good, and shadow detail acceptable. All in all it serves the material well enough, though the keen-eyed will notice some posterisation and a few slightly over-dark sections. Those afraid of film artefacts should note that the first reel has lots of them - little black specks, probably damage to the original negative. This won’t be noticed by most people.
Sporting a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, the film never really calls on Big Audio to any large extent and makes do without the LFE channel just fine. This is a very front-focussed mix that only employs the surrounds occasionally, mostly for discreet effects rather than ambience. The dialogue in the centre channel is mostly clear, but has limited fidelity and sometimes threatens to wander into the land of distortion. Like the video transfer, the audio here is acceptable for the material, but a refined soundtrack this ain’t.
Not a bean. Reviewers around the world are truly grateful. The US version of this disc, by the way (which may contain a different movie altogether, as more than one reviewer has referred to it as “hilarious”!) offers a trailer, so you can hear once again how Disney pioneered the “but now” formula that’s in use on 90% of trailers today.
Okay, comedy’s highly subjective. But when Nothing to Lose turns out to be more like Nothing to Amuse, it’s hard not to focus on how tepid this movie is, both in concept and execution. The DVD gives us the movie - just the movie - with decent-enough video and audio. Priced as a budget title, that’s perfectly acceptable.