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 movie, a moralistic family drama, a madcap road adventure. Pic’s best — and most marketable — asset is the inspired pairing of leads 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 a crowded marketplace, could enjoy a decent opening and mid-range numbers in domestic theatrical.
A variation on the male buddy pic, “Nothing to Lose” aspires to follow in the footsteps of the popular crime-adventures that have teamed black and white actors, such as Walter Hill’s “48 HRS.,” with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. Nick Beame (Robbins) is a successful advertising exec and a happily married man 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, as he sits 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, turning the tables on the mugger and taking him hostage. Thus begins the first chapter of an unlikely friendship between two men who could not be more different. The yarn that follows is a hodgepodge, replete with holdups, 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 by another interracial pair of bumbling criminals, David (Rig) Lanlow (John C. McGinley) and Charlie Dunt (Giancarlo Esposito), who are also sought by the police.
Pic is meant to be a brisk, spontaneous, high-spirited comedy-adventure, but what unfolds onscreen is just 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. His erratic film vacillates between funny, offbeat episodes, tediously moralistic lectures about civic duties and warmhearted arguments about marital responsibilities.
After the first hour, Oedekerk seems suddenly to realize that his neglect of women might alienate female viewers, so he arranges for T. Paul a homecoming scene with his wife and children, and an unexpected date for Nick in what’s the fakest scene of the film.
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. Gifted character actors McGinley and Esposito are quite wasted, and with the exception of Irma P. Hall, who makes a great entrance as a bossy matriarch, the 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.