Film / Nothing to Lose

"Boy, did you pick the wrong guy on the wrong day."

Nothing to Lose is a 1997 action-comedy film starring Tim Robbins as Nick Beam and Martin Lawrence as Terrence Paul "T-Paul" Davidson. It was written and directed by Steve Oedekerk.

Nick Beam is having a very bad day. His life was going swimmingly until he came home to discover that his wife is apparently having an affair with his boss. Now on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Nick drives away, trying to gather the shattered remains of his life.

T-Paul is about to have a very bad day. He just found the perfect mark to rob—some schlub in his SUV barely paying attention to his surroundings has wandered into the ghetto, so he hops in the car and tries to carjack him. That schlub is Nick Beam, and this was his breaking point. He peels out with the hapless carjacker in tow.

As the man with no job and the man with no life are forced to bond, they hatch a scheme to get back at Nick's boss by cleaning out an office safe containing hundreds of thousands of dollars, while trying to dodge a pair of robbers who think Nick and T-Paul are horning in on their turf. Wacky Hijinks ensue.

This film contains the following tropes:

  • Agony of the Feet: A strange series of events leads to Nick setting his shoes on fire while trying to kill a spider. Short version: his shoes are soaked in gasoline and he managed to step on a book of matches just right to ignite them. How he managed to do that with safety matches rather than the strike-anywhere type is unclear.
  • Beneath Notice: T-Paul is able to infiltrate an office building dressed as an electrician sometime before the denouement. Nick is the only one who realizes the significance.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Inverted. While Nick is at least a foot taller than T-Paul, he's the smart one and planning ahead in their duo, while T provides his street-smarts at best, performing stupid acts of minor thievery at worst.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Nick manages to do this to Rig.
  • Brick Joke: You were thinking the small gag with Nick spilling gasoline over his shoes was all that was? Wait for the spider to show up... and then, few scenes later, the gas station attendant comments about the still smoking shoes.
    Gas Station Cashier: You must be really fast.
  • The Cameo: Steve Oedekerk appears as a lip-synching security guard.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The videotape T-Paul makes of Nick trying desperately to kill a spider and extinguish his burning shoes comes in very handy at the end.
    • The golden case full of Nick's business cards.
    • The flashlights come with radio.
    • Inverted with Nick's wallet. It's important not because he has it, but because he throw it away earlier.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nick learns about his wife having an affair with his boss. That makes him so depressed, a carjacker putting a gun to his face doesn't even move him. As the plot progress, he gains a confidence he never even suspected to have, mostly because he doesn't value his own life anymore, hence the title.
    Nick: I'm sure you're a really scary guy. I'm sure that, normally, people just quiver at the very sound of your voice. But, you see, I, I cant see that right now. I... I... I just see a weak, desperate little man... that probably grew up torturing little animals. Some puny, little uncoordinated... can't-make-the-football-team- so-I'll-pick-on-third-graders-and-steal-their-lunch-money... punk, jerk-off bully... that one day wakes up and realizes he's nothing. Just a sad, pathetic, useless, illiterate piece of inbred shit.
    Rig: (puts his shotgun under Nick's chin) Time to die.
    Nick: (in deadpan) That just makes you my best friend.
  • Embarrassing First Name: As it turns out, the T in T-Paul stands for... Terrance. While the name itself isn't embarrassing at all, it makes a stark contrast with the carjacker persona T was playing up the whole time and is the first true sign of his Hidden Depths.
  • Gag Penis: The fertility statue that Nick's boss prizes so much has a phallus about twice the length of the rest of it.
  • Game of Chicken: Since Nick is outright suicidal at this point of his life, he doesn't even flinch when driving head-on toward a truck driven by the gas owner robbed by T. The other driver eventually chickens and slams right into the police cruiser on Nick's back.
  • Genre-Busting:
  • Groin Attack: Symbolically, as Nick hacks the phallus off the aforementioned fertility statue with a displayed sword. The statue belongs to a guy having an affair with Nick's wife.
  • Hidden Depths: Turns out T-Paul is not just a random carjacker, but in fact a truly desperate father of two and a loving husband who despite his high technical qualifications can't find any job and escape the ghetto he's trapped in with his family.
  • Holding the Floor: Nick tries desperately to invoke this when his boss is reviewing the security tapes from the robbery to prevent him from seeing Nick's uncovered face on the tape. He fails, but T-Paul has another surprise in store.
  • Jive Turkey: While T-Paul subverts it for the most part and only resorts to it when playing up the hardass black robber persona, Nick still overblows it out of proportions when annoyed, opening the most recognisable scene from the whole movie.
    T-Paul: There's a spider on your head.
    Nick Beam: What?
    T-Paul: There's a spider on yo head.
    Nick Beam: Look, I'm sorry, I'm not up on all this jive talkin', home boy lingo, what's that supposed to mean? "There's a spider on your head"?
    T-Paul: It means there's a spider on your motherfuckin' head, man!
  • Left the Background Music On: Happens more than once, when what was playing in the background in radio turns into soundtrack music.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: It turns out that the two people Nick mistook for his wife and his boss having sex in their bed was really his sister-in-law and her fiance having sex in said bed. The cufflinks he found were his boss's, but he'd left them behind during a previous Christmas party and his wife had set them out to return to him.
  • Mugging the Monster: This essentially kicks off the core of the plot, when T-Paul tries to carjack Nick, and Nick peels off with him in the car, having "nothing to lose" at this point.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nick eventually learns there was no affair. Roughly a hour before that, he robbed his boss and destroyed his art collection in an act of revenge for said "affair".
  • Not What It Looks Like: Happens twice
    • The very opening scene is about Nick and Ann saying a lot of harsh things about each other, implying a serious marriage crisis. Then it turns out to be their game, trying to invent the most ludicrous thing possible to make the other crack up laughing, unable to keep up.
    • Nick finds out Ann in bed with someone and finds his boss' cufflinks in the living room, kicking the entire plot. As it turns out in the end, that was his sister-in-law and her boyfriend and he simply forget about their long-appointed visit.
  • Odd Couple: There is absolutely nothing that Nick and T-Paul have in common and they bicker a lot most of the time. And yet circumstances force them to create a duo so effective at working together, even they are surprised themselves how good team they make.
  • Oh, Crap!: Quite literally. After learning the truth about his wife "affair", Nick jokingly remarks she will have a good laugh after he explains what happend... and then realises what he just did.
    Nick: Shit. Shit... Shit! Shit, shiiiiit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: At the start, Nick comes home and finds his boss's cufflinks on the kitchen counter. He hears a woman moaning upstairs, so he walks up and spies his wife riding a man. Devastated, he leaves, goes for a drive and meets (and later befriends) T. Subverted when he finds out the "infidelity" was actually a misunderstanding.
  • Poor Communication Kills: While it doesn't lead to outright death, if only Nick called his wife earlier, a lot of events of the film wouldn't happen at all, since he wouldn't be convinced of her infidelity.
  • Salt and Pepper: Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Terry's mother is somewhere between this and a really stern woman, always ready to smack someone with flat palm.
  • Scary Black Man: Invoked, discussed and played both ways. Nick and T have few discussion about his style of performing robbery pretending to be "a scary motherfucker" and playing up all the negative stereotypes about black armed robbers. They even have a discussion about who was more scary with a shop attendant.
    Nick: You didn't find what he did as contrived?
    Henry: No, it was scary.
    Nick: What part?
    Henry: The "freeze motherfucker" part was scary and he lead me to believe that if I moved my ass, it might be blown off.
  • Share the Male Pain: Nick's boss's reaction to seeing the phallus of his prized fertility statue getting hacked off in the security tape.
  • A Simple Plan: In an outburst of anger against T-Paul's Too Dumb to Live acts of petty crime, Nick is dared by T to create a better crime plan if he thinks he's all that smarter. He almost instantly laids down a simple, well-organised plan to rob his boss of his private money without leaving any traces, in the same time taking revenge for the affair the boss has with Ann... and then realises this actually might work. And unlike typical example, despite the plan having few minor setbacks on the way, they manage to pull it without bigger problems or delays.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World:
    Rig: Nick, are you aware that there are only two kinds of people on the whole planet? There are killers and then there's everybody else. I'm the killer, Nick, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, what are you, Nick?
    Nick: I'm married. (shoots Rig's gun)
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: T-Paul tries to avert this; for all his ghetto carjacker posturing, he only resorts to robbery to support his family because he can't find a job pursuing his true calling in electrical engineering. That said, he ticks all the other boxes.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: T's gun is unloaded. And even if it was, it would probably made zero impression on Nick during the carjack, since he outright ignored a gun put to his face.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Nick life seems to spiral toward life of a criminal and then he meets a woman from his office, after already performing the successful robbery. Being drunk and lonely, he follows her seduction and their flirt quickly leads to bed... where Nick hits the wall and realises what he's doing with his life. He excuses her for his shameful behaviour and runs to the phone to call his wife. As it quickly turns out, she wasn't having an affair either, and that means... Oh, Crap!.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: T-Paul and his family live in a modern ghetto variation, where night shooting are common enough to rather annoy them rather than make shocked or afraid.