Film review: Nothing to Lose

Published: Friday, July 18 1997 9:32 p.m. MDT

Steve Oedekerk isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is, but he sure knows how to cast a movie.

Take "Nothing to Lose," a formula caper-farce that would be just awful if it wasn't for the inspired, if unlikely teaming of Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence.

Robbins and Lawrence are hilarious together, and they repeatedly make up for the script's weaknesses with clever banter and goofy sight gags, some of which are obviously improvised.

In fact, Oedekerk could take a lesson or two from his stars about timing and pacing. Especially when he showcases himself in an extended and only fitfully amusing cameo late in the film.

In this lengthy sequence, Oedekerk appears as a cocky night watchman, who just happens to stumble into an office where Robbins and Lawrence are commiting burglary. As they hide in the darkness, Oedekerk turns on a radio and dances the night away, lip-syncing to a string of pop songs. The amusement comes from Robbins and Lawrence mugging as they become more and more exasperated. And the audience will probably feel equally exasperated, since the scene goes on forever.

Similarly, Oedekerk's directing style is to overplay and overdo, when a quick cutoff might be the wiser — and more amusing — choice.

The thin story has Robbins playing an uptight advertising executive who uncovers evidence that his wife (Kelly Preston) is having an affair with his boss (Michael McKean). So he drives off in a despondent state and is promptly robbed at gunpoint by petty thief Lawrence.

After some cultural conflicts and head-on confrontations, they decide to team up, break into McKean's office and rob his safe.

Along the way, we meet Lawrence's family and learn his motives for turning to criminal activity, which gives Robbins a motive for trying to help him out.

Aside from the antics of Robbins and Lawrence, Irma P. Hall has a funny bit as Lawrence's mother (you've seen it in the previews), but most of the film is quite weak, with laughs that come only in spurts. And two fine actors, Giancarlo Esposito and John C. McGinley, as goofball villains, are wasted, as is Kelly Preston.

Oedekerk is a former standup comic and writer for the TV series "In Living Color," who co-wrote "Ace Ventura" with Jim Carrey and went on to write and direct "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" and co-write Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor."

All of these movies were big hits, so, naturally, Oedekerk is in great demand. And because Robbins and Lawrence are funny in "Nothing to Lose," this film may also be a big hit. Which means more movies from Oedekerk.

Let's just hope he continues to cast them well.

"Nothing to Lose" is rated R for violence, a sex scene, some partial nudity (in the sex scene and during a strip-bar sequence) and a constant stream of profanity and vulgarity, primarily from Lawrence.

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