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Film / Nothing to Lose

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"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:

  • All There in the Script: "T-Paul" is only mentioned in the script and in the end credits. He himself only mentions T. (and that's how Nick address him for the most part) and his family calls him by his first name.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Played for Laughs. When he grabs a handgun from Rig's belt, T starts to wave it erratically around, eventually accidently firing it and shooting Nick. In fact, the robbers are more afraid of the lack of most basic gun safety than the fact T is holding them at a gunpoint, as he is simply unpredictable.
    • And let's not forget the gun was behind a belt in the first place.
  • Asshole Victim: Invoked by Nick, who decides to rob his boss for sleeping with Nick's wife. Ultimately subverted. His boss does come off as a bit of a self-involved jerk, but the supposed affair was a big misunderstanding. Nick learns this and puts the money back (though the fertility idol is still destroyed).
  • Beneath Notice: T 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 Fancy House: Downplayed but this is what T thinks of Nick when he gets fed up with him for trying to shame him for the nearly botched gas station robbery and that he doesn’t need lessons from a rich guy on how to commit robberies. While Nick is none of the two things T thinks he is, he’s still lives in a very nice house and lives a very comfortable lifestyle.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Inverted. While Nick is at least a foot taller than T, 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 Terrence 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 radios.
    • Inverted with Nick's wallet. It's important not because he has it, but because he throw it away earlier.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Remember how T. is a qualified electrician? Well, it saves him and Nick twice, first when he bypasses the security system during their heist and then over-records the tape with unmasked Nick. Plus, of course, it ultimately lands him a job.
  • *Click* Hello: T is introduced to Nick and the audience this way - he cocks his revolver right after slipping silently into Nick's car.
  • Cool Car: Nick’s 1996 GMC Yukon. Which unfortunately gets shot up and rammed into throughout the rest of the movie.
  • Correspondence Course: The electrician diploma is for finishing one of those, signed by a school in Astoria, Oregon. However, unlike typical situation related with this trope, this is a diploma for a technician, rather than a degree, meaning the declared number of hours spent on studying is equal to finishing "real" school.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Nick berates T. for being an armed robber, not so much because it is against the law as there are much smarter ways to do it, and for that matter, robbing a much bigger "score" makes more sense than robbing a few hundred bucks from a convenience store or a gas station.
  • 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.
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The name T has for the gas station clerk he robbed?? “Hillbilly Motherfucker.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The "Wanted!" Poster has a bunch of extra information on Rig (that's actually his alias, real name: Davis Lanlow) and Charlie.
  • 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.
  • Gangsta Style: Both Rig and Charlie hold handguns this way.
  • Genre-Busting:
  • Groin Attack: Symbolically, as Nick hacks the phallus off the forementioned fertility statue with a displayed sword. The statue belongs to a guy having an affair with Nick's wife.
  • Hidden Depths: Turns out T 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 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!
  • Lampshade Hanging: When chasing after Rig and Charlie, Nick has a moment of clarity of just how crazy his situation is and what's going on.
    Nick: I'm actually grabbing a gun and going after a bad guy.
  • Left the Background Music On: Happens more than once, when what was playing in the background in radio turns into soundtrack music.
  • Match Cut: The shot of a "Wanted!" Poster dissolves to Charlie and Rig entering a store. Interestingly, rather than being a perfect match from the start, by the time the dissolve is almost over, they are in the same position as their mug shots, "fitting" into them.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: Thanks to Diagonal Billing, the poster identifies Tim Robbins as Martin Lawrence and vice versa.
  • 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 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".
  • Ms. Fanservice: Ann is played by Kelly Preston so this is a big given.
    • Hell her sister is a splitting image of her....... No wonder why her and her fiancé were getting it on like there was no tomorrow and no wonder Nick mistakenly mistook her for Ann......
    • Danielle is extremely dazzling herself and it helps she’s played by Rebecca Gayheart. Especially when she does the little striptease for Nick before trying to get him to give it to her. A lot of dudes are still disappointed in Nick for not “giving it to her”!!!!
    • T’s wife Lisa is another one. T might be unlucky finding employment but he’s lucky to have a beautiful woman to go home to every night.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Happens quite a lot.
    • 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.
    • Due to entire string of events, T watches in disbelieve as Nick apparently is robbing a gas station, right after they have an argument about T-Paul's last stint with "buying" gas. However, Nick not only pays 20 bucks for the gas, but also for the damage the whole situation caused. And for the sour fruity twist.
      • The gas station clerk also assumed Nick was trying to rob him, solely based on the fact he had a gun behind his belt.
  • Odd Couple: There is absolutely nothing that Nick and Terry 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!
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Literally. Terry accidently fires a gun and hits Nick in the arm. It is quickly revealed the bullet barely scratched his skin, even for a wound caused by bullet grazing.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Title Drop: "Nothing to lose" is clearly heard in the lyrics of the soundtrack song being played as Nick arrives home at the end of his adventure. Ironically, by this point Nick actually has everything to lose as his happy life is now in serious jeopardy due to robbing and vandalizing his boss's office. At pretty much any other point in the movie, that song would've reflected Nick's situation much better as he spent most of the movie mistakenly believing that he really did have "nothing to lose."
  • 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 towards the 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: Terrence and his family live in a pretty rough neighborhood just a couple miles from Downtown Los Angeles, where night shootings are common enough to rather annoy them rather than make shocked or afraid.