HERCULES - FACE OFF - MEN IN BLACK
OUT TO SEA - NOTHING TO LOSE

HERCULES

"Hercules" is the 35th full-length animated feature entry into Walt Disney Pictures' catalogue of family entertainment. This time, the animation giant takes kids of all ages on an odyssey based upon the ancient Greek myths of the world's first super hero, Hercules.

Robin ROBIN:
Disney Studios, as we've come to count on, has put together a seasoned group of professionals to create the animation magic of "Hercules." Directors/producers/writers John Musker and Ron Clemens ("The Great Mouse Detective," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin") bring art director Andy Gaskill ("The Lion King") and eight-time Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken ("The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin") together, with lyricist David Zippel and 906 artists, animators and technicians, combining these abundant talents to tell the tale of the adventures of Hercules.

In typical Disney form, the makers have joined the craft of animation with an abundance of vocal talent, snappy music, fine art work, and an exciting yarn to accomplish its task of teaching a bit of Greek mythology along with providing an entertaining and fun story.

Joining Hercules (young Herc is voiced by Joshua Keaton, the adult hero by Tate Donovan) are a myriad cast of characters led by Danny DeVito as Philoctetes, or Phil, a cynical satyr who's a cross between Yoda and Mickey from "Rocky," and takes on the daunting task of training our hero to be a hero. Other notable characters are Grecian beauty, Meg, (Megara, voiced by Broadway's Susan Egan) who tempts our noble hero, Pain and Panic (Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer), the comical minions of the dark god, Hades, and, in a spectacular bad guy debut, Hades, himself, voiced with gusto and a machine-gun-fire delivery by James Woods.

Utilizing an efficient device of progressing the story, Musker and Clemens use the vocal talents of the five Muses, ancient Greece's answer to a Gospel-singing troupe, to set the stage of Hercules' tale with the delightful opening number, "The Gospel Truth," telling us about the gods of Mt. Olympus and the birth of Hercules. As the story progresses, the Muses return with their song to recount the life of Hercules, his famous Twelve Labors and rise to heroic prominence in ancient Thebes (called "The Big Olive," where, "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere"). There is not a lot of time wasted filling in the background details, here.

The rest of the musical numbers, besides "The Gospel Truth," are pretty mundane, without anything memorable coming to mind. Hercules theme song, "Go The Distance," is too "Rocky"-like to have its own original flair. Hades does not have a song - this is a notable problem, in that Woods, as Hades, is the best vocal role in the film. "The Gospel Truth" should be remembered for best song come the end of the year, it's such a cool piece of music.

The technical aspects of "Hercules" are on par with the best of modern Disney animation artistry. The efforts of nearly 1000 people are not wasted in their portrayal of the multiple levels of characters and the film's art design. My only criticism is the obvious use of CGI in the animation of the Hydra, a monster who sprouts three heads for every one cut off in the battle with Hercules. The blending of traditional animation and the computer generated stuff doesn't work as well as one would hope. The CGI monster called attention to itself and was a distraction in what is, otherwise, a first rate animation feature.

We watched "Aladdin," again, after seeing "Hercules." I have to say that our muscle-bound Greek hero has the edge over the rug-rat from Baghdad. "Hercules" is a solid kids' adventure that keeps the attention of its diminutive target audience, and mine, too. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Beauty and the Beast" notwithstanding, "Hercules" is the one of the best of the modern Disney animation efforts to date.

The hip banter and topical subject matter will make "Hercules" popular for its theatrical and video releases, making Disney a tidy profit, thank you very much. I don't think it will have the shoulders to go the distance as a classic. Robin Williams' schtick in "Aladdin" has lost its punch over time. "Hercules" may likely suffer from the same fate. We'll see.

All and still, I give "Hercules" an A-

Laura LAURA:
For their 35th animated feature, Walt Disney Pictures does a lively, funny 'Gospel Truth' take on the Greek myth of Hercules. While not of the masterpiece calibre of "Beauty and the Beast," "Hercules" is one of the more enjoyable, playful of Disney's recent efforts and ranks alongside "The Little Mermaid," while besting "Aladdin," which were also created by "Hercule's" directing/writing team of John Musker and Ron Clements.

"Hercules" begins by liberating 5 Muses from a classic Greek urn who become a Gospel singing Greek chorus which fills in story background. (The rousing tunes were created by perennial Disney Oscar nominee Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel.) Hercules is first presented as the child of gods Zeus and Hera in Mount Olympus. As the other gods present gifts (Dad's given him Pegasus, the winged horse), Hades arrives to complain about his lot as God of the Underworld. Hades dispatches his minions Panic and Pain to kill the child, but they merely manage to turn the god mortal. The adolescent Hercules doesn't know his own strength and becomes a shunned disasterous klutz who discovers his human parents aren't his biological parents. Seeking guidance, Hercules goes to the Temple of Zeus, where his real father explains his true past, reunites him with Pegasus, and sends him to "Phil," a satyr, to train him to become a hero, so he can return to Mount Olympus as a god. Hades, learning that Hercules is still alive, employs the stunning Megara to trap him, but Hercules and Megara fall in love. Still Hades gets the upper hand, sapping Hercules strength for 24 hours and unleashing the Titans to take over Mount Olympus.

The voice cast is terrific, particularly James Woods as Hades, who obviously had a lot of fun and did a lot of ad-libbing to create one of Disney's funniest villains ("I haven't been this choked up since I got a hunk of moussaka stuck in my throat."). Danny Devito is gruffly amusing as the lustful satyr. Matt Frewer (TV's Max Headroom) and Bobcat Goldthwait are terrific as Hades' minions Panic and Pain. Tate Donovan ("Love Potion #9") and Susan Egan (Broadway's Belle) voice Hercules and Meg.

The animation is top notch save for one bum note - the multi-headed hydra is obviously computer generated and the difference in style from the more classical animation is painfully obvious. The animators have wittily made use of Greek art and architecture throughout - even Hercules knees are fashioned via Greek scrollwork! Hades' hair is made up of a blue undulating flame which burns red hot when he gets angry. Meg is more interesting than the standard Disney beauty, although they've been getting better at developing more exotic heroines in recent years ("The Hunchback's" Esmerelda, "Aladdin's" Princess Jasmine). Pegasus is an amusing, but still majestic horse who chirps like a bird. The Fates share one eye and the Titans truly seem overwhelming in their embodiment of natural disasters. Art direction is superb as well, particularly the River Styx leading into the Underworld, which is guarded by the three-headed dog Cerebus.

"Hercules" features more pop culture references than normal for a Disney film with sly references to "The Karate Kid" and the "Hercules Store," but they work. This is the second film of the summer to make direct references to its merchandising ("I have my own action figure!"), but here, unlike in "Batman and Robin," the references are humorously employed.

The script is clever, reshaping the myth of Hercules (they even use the Roman name, rather than the Greek name of Heracles) without losing the core of the story. Disney's delivered another winner!

A


FACE/OFF

Hong Kong director John Woo finally makes a film that stands among the Hong Kong films that made him famous ("Bullet in the Head," "The Killer") with his third American effort, "Face/Off." Its premise is wild. John Travolta is FBI agent Sean Archer, who's been in relentless pursuit of terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) ever since Troy inadvertently killed Archer's young son in an attempt to take out Archer. Once Troy's finally under lock and key and in a coma, Archer discovers that Troy's set a hideously lethal biological weapon to go off in an unknown location. In order to infiltrate Troy's gang, including his imprisoned brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), Archer undergoes radical surgery to have his face replaced by Castor Troy's.

Laura LAURA:
"Face/Off" is one crazy film steeped in duality - even the title's a double entendre! The Troy brothers are named after two stars of the Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins. Archer's lost a son while Troy has a son he doesn't know about. There's the obvious good and evil of Archer and Troy and mirrors are employed often, alternately casting back images of both their true selves and their arch rival's. Archer's wife is the fair-haired Eve (Joan Allen) while Troy's woman is the dark, sultry Sasha (Gina Gershon).

Woo also piles on the religious symbolism. Troy's introduced impersonating a priest while setting his bomb (Cage has a field day here, enthusiastically coming on to a choir girl!). The Archers' deceased son Michael's headstone is a melancholy angel. The final face off begins in a seaside chapel moodily lit with lots of candles and featuring a flock of doves in an true over-the-top Woo touch. The soundtrack features Handel's "Messiah."

Woo takes the action sequence to heights of cinematic masterpiece (as well as body count). "Face/Off" features some dillies. The three best include a chase scene on a runway that results in Troy's capture via the blast of a jet engine, an intense prison escape sequence held within a multi-tiered cell block and a spectacular shootout in crime lord Dietrich Hasslar's stylish loft that required 5,000 bullet effects and is played out to a cover of Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow"!

The truly outstanding thing about "Face/Off," however, is watching Travolta and Cage not only create their own characters, but become each other's. Travolta's got the flashier role, spending most of his screen time inhabiting Archer's body as Troy. He nails Cage's cocky strut and tosses off his egotistical taunts with sheer glee in one of his best performances. It's fun to see Travolta trash his own physical appearance, complaining to Cage about his out of shape body and 'ridiculous' chin. Travolta goes too far as Archer, but this was the right way to play it - Troy doesn't know Archer as intimately as Archer's come to know Troy. Cage is great initially as Troy. He's fashioned a stylish villain who delights in his flashy wardrobe and whose confidence knows no bounds. He's also a real lady-killer in more ways than one. Cage's performance as Archer is subtle, capturing Travolta's voice range and meeker physical demeanor. The two also gave each other character tics to work off of - Travolta expresses his love by running his hand open palmed over loved ones' faces while Cage shows his love and caring for his younger, less capable brother by tying Pollux' sneaker back up.

The supporting cast is also noteworthy, particularly director/actor Nick Cassevete's oddly humorous Dietrich Hasslar. He reminded me of Dennis Hopper in the role. Joan Allen was an odd choice for Eve Archer, but she's a terrific actress and does a great job conveying a woman in a marriage made unhappy by consequences of actions taken by her husband's arch-rival. Gina Gershon is tough and touching as Troy's 'moll.' Dominique Swain, whose first film performance was the title role of the "Lolita" remake that's still looking for a distributor, again offers up nubile temptation as the Archers' teenage daughter. (She also gets to deliver a great line when faced with her dad in Cage's body and her dad's embodiment of the villain by screaming "What planet am I on?".)

Great acting, great direction, a script that must have sounded silly but is made to work, great cinematography, art direction and score all add up to one of this summer's most entertaining films - it's action film as art.

A-

Robin ROBIN:
"Face/Off," on the surface, has all the elements that should make it the best of its genre - Hong Kong action film master, John Woo; stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage; an intriguing story of traded identity, both physical and emotional; outrageous shoot-outs/explosions/chases (one of the key shoot-outs has over 5000 bullet effects!). By all rights, this should be a great film!

Being a number one fan of action flics, especially with someone like John Woo helming the effort, and starring Travolta and Cage, I had pretty high expectations for "Face/Off. But, when I came out of theater after seeing the film, I found myself less than thrilled about it.

I've been thinking about it a lot, since, and finally came to the conclusion that the thing that bothers me about "Face/Off" is the utter necessity to suspend disbelief not once, but several times. When the "exchange" of identity of FBI agent Sean Archer for criminal badguy Castor Troy takes place, initially, it's under the auspices of a huge government-funded effort, using high technology to totally alter a person into being another, I said, "OK. I'll accept that." I didn't question the fact that, for Travolta's Sean to become Cage's Castor, the surgical team would have to perform major liposuction. Also, if they can change the physical appearance of the body so drastically, why rip off the face? Again, I suspend my disbelief. I laughed out loud when the setup is presented, especially when they rip the faces off, but, I put it behind me.

Then, later, the wicked Castor suddenly comes out of his coma and forces one doctor to perform the whole process in reverse, making Castor into Sean. Here's my problem - what initially took an entire team of surgeons and nurses working furiously together to evoke the change, now takes one guy, working alone, under the threat of death or maiming, to do the same job - performing reverse liposuction, hair transplants, and getting rid of that annoying little mole that has always bothered Castor. This pushes the believabilty envelope way too much, and, I can only be pushed so far!

These days, so much money is spent on star power and F/X in big Hollywood films, and so little attention to intelligent story, it is becoming increasingly necessary to leave your brain outside the door when you go to the movies. I like to be entertained as much as the next guy, but I have to have some kind of plausibility on which to anchor by suspension of disbelief.

John Woo is one of the great, world-class, action directors. His Hong Kong films, "A Better Tomorrow," "Hard-boiled," and "The Killer," are a progression of quality action movies that shows the incredibly deft hand of a talented writer/director. Woo also wrote or co-wrote all his renowned HK flics. As such, these films have Woo's signature, not just on the action, which is some of the best, but also on the stories. There is always a duality of good and bad in these films that makes both sides appealing. This is uniquely Woo.

The US films by Woo, "Hard Target," "Broken Arrow," and, now, "Face/Off," certainly have the action side of things down pat - there is all the requisite violence that Woo is known for world-wide. As far as I can tell, however, he does not have his hand in any of the stories, and this is where all three fail. Maybe next time, Woo will have more control of his film. That could be interesting.

Stars Cage and Travolta are fine in their roles. Both are relatively convincing changing characters. I doubt if I'll remember the performances come year's end.

One last thing about action - more is not always better. There are several decent set action pieces, including the above mentioned 5000 bullet scene. The biggie, though, the speed boat chase, is just excess. It doesn't add anything to the film's equation.

I think I keep expecting a John Woo film to be a John Woo film. "Face/Off" is entertaining, but a personal disappointment. I give it a B-.


MEN IN BLACK

They work in secret and they dress in black. They are clandestinely funded and they protect the earth from the scum of the universe. They are "Men in Black," based on the Lowell Cunningham comic book series, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as the title characters, code named K and J.

Robin ROBIN:
Sonnenfeld, whose eclectic filmography includes "Get Shorty" and "The Addams Family" movies, has created a unique world that combines the average, workaday human existence with the secret world of extraterrestials living on earth. The government controlled, but hidden, terminus for alien immigration to earth is the intergalactic equivalent of a cross between Ellis Island and the international terminal at JFK airport. Like these human portals into America, the alien terminal is populated by all manner of interstellar immigrants, depicted in a incredible array of mechanical and makeup effects, as well as computer generated imagery. It's "Dragnet" meets the bar scene in "Star Wars."

The script, by Ed Solomon, captures the comic book nature of the story and puts the viewer, right away, into the world of the MiB agent - always on the lookout for law-breaking alien scum, dispatching the offenders with impunity, when necessary.

Casting Tommy Lee Jones as the cool, professional MiB agent, K, is perfect. He is the anchor of the team, always two steps ahead of those pesky, alien immigrants who try to get away from government control and lose themselves in the human populace. Jones puts aside the manic, fast-talking character he usually plays and delivers a performance that would make Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday in the "Dragnet" TV series) proud. K is only interested in the facts, ma'am. He is also a first-rate straight man for partner, J, played by Will Smith.

Smith, who made a splash debut in "Six Degrees of Separation" and a international tidal wave in last year's "Independence Day," is given the limelight in "MiB" as the street-wise NYPD cop, James Edwards. James, a loner with no family or emotional ties, is recruited by K and his boss, Agent Zed (Rip Torn), as the replacement for K's burned out partner, D. James becomes J as the pair are assigned to track down a giant, alien insect hitman (Vincent D'Onofrio) sent to earth to spread terror in advance of an interstellar invasion. Smith lends the right notes of humor and sassiness that will keep him working for some time to come.

Speaking of Vincent D'Onofrio: he has to have the toughest job, in "MiB," as Edgar, a simple farmer who has the unfortunate bad luck of being the first to meet the giant alien arthropod who uses Edgar's skin as an ill-fitting disguise in his reign of terror. D'Onofrio, between the extensive makeup job and the obvious physicality of the role - twitching and jerking around as he ineptly, but successfully, dupes the humans around him - does a funny and scary job throughout the film.

Linda Fiorentino, as the intelligent, resourceful medical examiner, Dr. Laurel Weaver, gives her best performance in some time (try to forget the abysmal thriller, "Jade"). Her Dr. Weaver is smarter than the MiB guys and, if they didn't keep erasing her memory with their "neuralizer," she'd be one of them. It's not a major character, but Fiorentino puts a positive spin on it.

Tony Shalhoub ("Big Night," taxidriver Antonio in TV's "Wings") is almost unrecognizable as a gun-running alien put upon to be an informer of the MiB boys. There is a great morphing effect, you may have seen it in previews, when you meet his character, Jeebs.

In an interesting departure from the usual Hollywood F/X extravaganza fare, the makers of "Men in Black" combine live action, creature puppetry by Rick Baker (who revolutionized makeup effects with "An American Werewolf in London"), and computer generated effects by Industrial Light & Magic, into a part of the film that is an integral addition to the other aspects of the production. The effects take their place as an important part of the whole film, but not the only important part. This attention to all the pieces - acting, costume, story, set design, as well as effects - makes "Men in Black" a solid, entertaining, intelligent, and funny entry into the annals of this summer's moviegoing selection.

"Men in Black" is a whole lot of fun for kids and adults, alike. I give it a B+.

Laura LAURA:
Director Barry Sonenfeld's ("The Addams Family," "Get Shorty") "Men In Black" is a light summer lark that's chock full of wit. "Men In Black" is being positioned to be this summer's big moneymaker, sharing its opening weekend, marketing-abbreviated title and star with last year's "Independence Day." While ID4 was goofy fun on the big screen, it falls flat on the small screen. MIB is the far superior film because while it offers great special effects and aliens threatening to destroy our planet, it also features such startling innovations as smart writing, good acting, fast pacing and a solid dash of originality.

Tommy Lee Jones is the taciturn Agent K, an undercover agent who's given up all vestiges of a normal life to control alien infiltrators for the Men In Black, an organization even the U.S. Government doesn't know about. What only the MIB know is that aliens live among us. MIB Headquarters is kind of an Ellis Island for aliens. The MIB not only track registered aliens, but continually save the world from alien outlaws. Agent K is introduced when he stops some local law enforcers from rounding up a group of illegal Mexican aliens - he manages to weed out the true alien, Mikey, hiding in the body of a Mexican who now can't speak Spanish. When the local cops witness Mikey's startling unveiling (he's really a rather funny looking Rick Baker creature with gills and huge eyeballs) and subsequent destruction, Agent K renders them innocent with his neurolyzer, a device which wipes out human memory.

Will Smith is NYC cop James Edwards, who's recruited into the MIB organization by Agent K after managing to unwittingly track down a particularly fleet alien on foot. The new Agent J couldn't be more different from his mentor/partner - he likes to have fun and spin more elaborate tales for the newly neurolyzed. While Smith gets most of the good lines, Jones displays magnificent comic timing and had me in stitches.

This film's storyline (this is SURE to become a series!) involves a 'bug,' who invades and takes over the body of Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio) in order to steal an Arquillian galaxy which is hidden in the bell of an 'registered' Arquillian prince's cat's collar. The Arquillians deliver an ultimatum to the Men in Black - destroy the bug or they'll be forced to destroy planet Earth.

The cast also includes Linda Fiorentino as NYC Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Laurel Weaver. She's making strings of discoveries in the morgue as the bug takes out other aliens, as well as becoming the object of Agent J's desire - he's afraid she may develop cancer from the alarming number of neurolyzations being administered her by Agent K. Rip Torn is Agent Zed, the head of MiB who has a way with delivering an assignment ('bring a sponge!'). Vincent D'Onofrio gives a great physical performance as the gradually decomposing Edgar - his spasic movements really look like an oversized cockroach crammed into a too small body. Tony Shalhoub is almost unrecognizable as Jeebs, an alien pawnshop owner who deals in black market alien weaponry.

This funny movie features such great scenes as Agent J attending to the birth of an alien squid in the back of a car, a screenful of registered aliens at MiB Headquarters that includes Sylvester Stallone and the Today Show's Al Roker, and Agent K referring to the tabloids as 'the hot sheets' ('best investigative reporting on the planet.') I didn't even groan when the film ended with an obvious setup for a sequel - I welcome one!

B+


OUT TO SEA

costars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in their 9th film togeher. Matthau is Charlie, a broke gambling addict who ropes his lovelorn widowed brother-in-law Herb (Lemmon) into a cruise to meet women - what Charlie neglects to mention is that he's signed them up as dance hosts so that they'll be earning their meager accomodations in the ship's hold. Cruise Director Gil Godwyn (Brent Spiner) tries to catch Charlie pursuing the apparently wealthy Liz (Dyan Cannon) while Herb innocently falls for Vivian (Gloria de Haven), a passenger he meets on the dance floor.

Laura LAURA:
Unfortunately, "Out to Sea" is. Although it's about as engaging as an episode of "The Love Boat," it's cast is charming enough to keep the film from being unlikeable.

Walter Matthau is always fun to watch and he doesn't disappoint here (except in his choice of material). His rubbery face and limbs and goofy charm add quite a bit to some rather hoary slapstick sequences. He shines impersonating an international phone operator in order to stall his rival Carswell (the recently deceased Edward Mulhare of TV's "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir"). Jack Lemmon's playing the more sober sidekick to Matthau, as he usually does, and gives an adequate performance as the romantic. Dyan Cannon's got an earthy laugh than convinces one that she'd go for the gusto with the older Matthau. Elaine Stritch, always a pleasure to watch, is a hoot here as the caustic mother of Cannon. Gloria de Haven is elegant and refined as Lemmon's love interest. Brent Spiner's proving himself to be a true chameleon of a character actor - his evil Jeffrey Jones-ish cruise director is the most fun element of this comedy!

Director Martha Coolidge could have produced a zippier flick with a more determined hand in the editting room - a scene where Charlie and Liz head to shore so Charlie can spend the entire time avoiding Godwyn drags on interminably. Dance hosts played by the likes of Donald O'Connor and Hal Linden have scenes for no other reason than their star status - the characters are never developed and should have been cut.

The only apparent rationale for the making of "Out to Sea" was for cast and crew to enjoy a real Caribbean cruise aboard the MS Westerdam.

C-

Robin ROBIN:
If Martha Coolidge intends "Out To Sea" to be an ocean-bound "Odd Couple," I think she has missed the mark.

The film stars Jack Lemmon as Herbie Sullivan, a retired Gimble's store clerk, and Walter Matthau as Charlie Gordon, an all too active septuagenarian gambler who cons his friend to take a Caribbean cruise - as dance hosts. That's about it for its 100+ minute runtime, with Lemmon doing the romantic part and Matthau providing the comic.

The problem with the film is nothing happens during the course of this less than exciting romantic-comedy. Lemmon's Herbie, a widower who won't put his wife's death behind him, meets an attractive widow (Gloria DeHaven), struggles with the guilt of betraying his dead wife, then overcomes it, living happily ever after. Big surprise.

Matthau plays the sprightly, mischievous, but lovable, Charlie, who has the hots for the beautiful "heiress," played far too young by Dyan Cannon. The twist is they both pretend to have money and neither does. Oh.

The rest of the cast - Hal Linden and Donald O'Connor (who does a nice little tap dance/hustle number that shows he's still got it) as genuine dance hosts, Edward Mulhare, Elaine Strich, Cannon, and DeHaven - are along, quite literally, for the ride. They appear to be enjoying themselves and aren't concerned with much else.

The spark that makes "Out to Sea" more than merely boring is the nice comic performance by Brent Spiner (Data on TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as the ship's cruise director, Gil Godwyn. Godwyn suspects his two newest dance masters from the start and gives a funny performance as he tries to run the ship's entertainment and keep tabs on his wayward underlings. Spiner, who also appeared in "Independence Day" and "Phenomenon," shows himself to be a versatile comedic actor. He is, hands down, the best thing in the film.

I would not base seeing a film on one actor's performance, so I can't recommend seeing "Out to Sea." After Laura and I saw the film, we were about three quarters the way home when I turned to her to ask, "Why did we go see that?" I don't think I would bother watching this, even, on cable.

Brent Spiner helps, but, "Out to Sea" i adrift and I give it a C-.


NOTHING TO LOSE

"Nothing to Lose," written and directed by Steve Oedekerk ("Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls), stars Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence as Nick Beam and unlikely partner, T (don't call me Terence) Paul. Nick is on top of the world - he has a beautiful, loving wife, a great job, a perfect future - until, one day, he comes home from work early to find his wife and boss in flagrante dilecto!

Out of his mind with despair, Nick gets in his car and drives and drives and drives, ending up in the wrong neighborhood, where T tries to car-jack the confused and angry spouse. This is definitely a bad career move for the hapless T as Nick reverses the tables and hijacks the hijacker. "Nothing to Lose" follows the adventures of this mismatched duo as they cross the desert and develop a true, if bizarre, friendship.

Robin ROBIN:
In "Nothing to Lose," Steve Oedenkerk has put together a lightweight story that has several problems - one, especially, in its initial setup. Nick and wife, Anne (Kelly Preston), from the opening, are obviously crazy about each other, so, when sees "her" in the act with his boss, the fact that he turns and runs does not make much sense for the man, at least from my viewpoint. Fortunately, the pace of the film lets you put this problem, and others, behind in short order.

When T arrives on the scene, things take off. Nick, totally crazed, kidnaps his kidnapper, driving them both into the middle of nowhere, without a plan or money. Then, the two "partners" go off on their own crime spree of armed robbery, confronting real bad guys, and pulling off a major heist at Nick's company. It's a fun. if predictable, roller-coaster ride.

The real charms of the film are the performances and palpable chemistry between Robbins and Lawrence. They have a natural enmity that brings out the affection that develops between the two men. This pairing is an inspired piece of casting.

Tim Robbins gives his best comic performance to date as the very confused Nick. It's better, even, than his starring debut in "Bull Durham" as rookie pitcher "Nuke" Laloosh. Robbins' physical stature combined with his comic timing and delivery makes him a standout opposite Lawrence.

Martin Lawrence, of whom I have never been a fan, turns me around in "Nothing to Lose." There is no doubt that Lawrence is sharing billing with Robbins as an equal, despite his diminutive size - the Laurel & Hardy-like extremes in physique is used to good effect. Lawrence's standup comedy background serves him well, too. He has a good range of emotions that he uses effectively - from tough guy to scared stiff, he does it well.

Supporting cast is not too exciting. John C. McGinley and Giancarlo Esposito do yeoman's work as the renegade bad guys, "The Highway Shooters," but their presence does not really add anything to the mixture besides having the services of two talented character actors available. Veteran stage and TV actress, Irma P. Hall, as T's mother, is a hoot as she administers corporal punishment to her son - and to anyone nearby who has anything to do with him.

Now, back to the script: the story, by Oedekerk is weak, overall, being very predictable and formulaic in its execution and final outcome. He shows flashes of real talent, however, in individual comic scenes between the two leads. One very funny scene, for example, has Nick set his shoes on fire - while still wearing them! - as T videotapes the whole thing, with running commentary. It's a very funny, bellylaugh kind of scene. There are a number of this kind of scene that helps push aside the banal nature of the overall story.

I had fun watching "Nothing to Lose." There is a smartness to the humor, even with the inherent silliness of the story. Plus, you have the positive pairing of two very different types, with Robbins and Lawrence, who work surprisingly well together.

I don't even mind the typical Hollywood way of simplifying complicated actions, like showing how to break into a company's sophisticated security system by crossing a couple of wires. Boy, is that Hollywood. But, the wit and humor of the film, and its stars, help to overshadow the film's flaws.

You have nothing to lose seeing "Nothing to Lose," and I give it a B.

Laura LAURA:
"Nothing to Lose" is a very funny buddy, road movie starring a very unlikely screen duo - Tim Robbins ("The Player," director of "Dead Man Walking") and Martin Lawrence ("Bad Boys"). While it's not altogether successful, it hits the mark consistently enough to make for an enjoyable entertainment.

Tim Robbins is Nick Beam, a successful ad exec who's madly in love with his playful wife Ann (Kelly Preston of "Addicted to Love"). When he discovers her in bed with his boss, Nick is devastated and withdraws without being seen. Driving aimlessly, he meets up with carjacker "T" (Lawrence). Nick is beyond caring what happens to himself, though, and ends up hijacking "T" out into the desert. The two make an uneasy truce and proceed to deal with mistaken identities, turf wars, revenge plots and getting to know each other ("T" turns out to be a rather smart guy who's had to resort to robbery to provide for his wife and kids as no one will give him a break to get into the job market).

Robbins has some great comic moments (particularly a wild and crazy roadside 'dance' which ends up with his shoes on fire!) and Lawrence has never been more likeable. John McGinley and Giancarlo Esposito are largely wasted as 'another' black and white armed robbery duo. Irma P. Hall is amusing as "T's" Mama (although director/screenwriter Oederkerk should have quit while he was ahead - he repeats Mama's funny scene a second time at the film's end to much lesser effect). Oederkerk (screenwriter of the "Ace Ventura" films) himself has an inspired scene as a nutsy security guard.

The film has a few plot convenient moments that don't ring true - T's family life seems to good to be true for him to have resorted to armed robbery, for example. T also proves his electrical engineering expertise by dismantling a security system which looks like a $20 toy protecting millions worth of cash and art. However, for each bum note the film gives back at least three genuinely hilarious ones which is a good enough deal in my book.

B


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