Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nothing To Lose (1994)

Check out that image above. It's beautiful, isn't it? Perfect framing, vivid colors. Ah shit, I took that thing with my cellphone. The VHS box laid against a wicker back chair (Yeah, that's right. I have a piece of wicker furniture in my apartment. Fuck off). That's the prettiest I could get it to look. There wasn't one fucking image for this movie online. Anywhere. I thought of just using a picture of Paul Gleason (Die Hard and The Breakfast Club), but Gleason doesn't really deserve that. And he just died. Not really a fitting epithet.

This thing isn't as good as a piece of corn embedded in a piece of shit.

Immediately after playing this fucker, my VCR began devouring the tape. That should have been my first sign. I yanked out the tape, opened the flap, and re-spooled the thing. My experience with Nothing To Lose should have ended there. Like Ramon (Juliano Mer) I figured I had "nothing to lose", so I popped it back in, fast forwarded to the opening credits, and let it play. Steve, if the tape malfunctions on you later I'll reimburse you a dollar for the purchase.

Our story begins, as so many do, with a street fight for money (think Lionheart). A referee instructs the fighters to "do whatever you want. Just play by the rules". These rules apparently include gratuitous ball kicking. One of the fighters, the eventual winner, is Ramon. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to lose (for a fix) because the next scene involves a mafia hitman murdering Ramon's family in perhaps the funniest murdering-of-the-family scene ever put to film. Silencer, awful sound effects, no blood, long pause before falling down, etc, etc. It's all in there. The killer leaves Ramon's younger sister alive and orphaned. Can Ramon win custody of her while also avenging his families death? It's a tricky situation because he needs to show he can hold down a job that doesn't include just doing "this or that". He'll have to prove he's a good person to social worker Natasha (Alexandra Paul) , especially if he wants to bang her in the end.


Ramon succeeds and bangs Natasha. It's possibly the only sex scene, in a non pornographic film, placed at the end of the movie. It's not really gratuitous and it's poorly lit (i.e. no clear tit shots), but it's there. It's amazing. It makes sense though when you think about it. Most films place this scene at the middle of a picture or right before the hero takes on the bad guys for the climactic battle. Any trained medical mind will tell you to have sex after battle. This is the first movie that's ever gotten it right.

*End Spoiler*

I didn't like this movie. In fact, I hated it. Still, it had Paul Gleason and I liked his scenes. Gleason is best known for playing Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club. Here, he plays Elliot, a Vernon-esque, ball busting police detective. He's like a piece of ivory in an elephant dump. He'd much rather be retired and moving to florida, but he'll stick around for one more case. He makes it clear that he's doing it for Ramon's little sister. He takes a line such as (when referring to Ramon) "he's an animal. He wouldn't know trust if it bit him in the ass" and turns it into.....something, which is more than what they had to begin with.

Unfortunately, Ramon is a prick. It's impossible to root for him. First of all, he's constantly punching guys in the balls. After being arrested for starting a fight in a club he explains to the cops how he "was defen-ging a woman". Sorry, that's another thing. His accent is a little hard to penetrate. Not his fault, but it still annoyed the shit out of me. He's the kind of guy that's always refusing help, but in constant need of it. Also, when he greets his sister at social services (after their family has been murdered) she hands him a picture that she painted for him. He says "nice", then picks her up and discards the picture behind her back. This actually happened. Between the punching of the balls and the dishonesty, I can't really abide this guy. He's a decent fighter, sure, but how would he fare if he kept it above the belt? The best thing I can say about him is he sure likes his ice cream, meaning he's sorta sensitive.

This picture has several quirky moments which are out of the ordinary for something like this. There's an attempted rape lifted from A Clockwork Orange. Included in this scene are the lines exhanged between the two, would be, rapists; "What a surprise Ed. Tonight we get to be heterosexual" and, after undoing his pants, "I told you to play some fucking music and I do mean fuck-ing music." I liked Gleason's line to a couple of keystone cops working under him that let Ramon escape: "You're through! You're on permanent suspension as soon as you get him back!" After this film, cops started cuffing hands behind one's back and a barrier was installed between the front and rear seats in all patrol cars. For that reason, this picture is to be commended.

Frank Pentangeli (The Godfather II) plays the mob kingpin who took Ramon in as his own son, after murdering his father years ago and then had the rest of his family (sans his little sister) murdered after he didn't go along with the fix. At one point, Ramon "captures" Frank's son, Daniel. Daniel, since he's basically Ramon's brother and all, goes along with the plan. Also, it gives him the opportunity to record the score to Nothing To Lose on his keyboard while sequestered in an abandoned warehouse.

Do you need another reason why Ramon is an asshole? After being captured by Frank and having the shit beaten out of him, he gives up the address where Frank's son is located. Only, it's Gleason's address instead. It did provide us another nice Gleason moment when, sitting in the living room with his wife watching TV, the doorbell rings and Gleason looks up clearly peturbed and wonders "now who the hell could that be?"

The pictures climax, of course it's set in a warehouse, involves Frank's gang and a rival Yakuza gang making a deal that get's all fucked up because of the lousy American exchange rate. This film, made in 1994, was kinda prophetic in a way. The Yakuza leader explains to Frank that his "dollar is as weak as his tea." Massacre ensues, Ramon waits until everyone (except Frank) is dead, then makes Frank cry before sparing his life. Whoops, forgot the spoiler warning.

With this being an action movie, I guess my only hope was for some competently shot action scenes and a little boobage. Not a chance. Some of the hand to hand clips are ok (even if the characters are clearly pulling their punches), but the shootouts are atrocious. Lots of delayed reactions to getting shot followed by some flagrant overacting. It's a high school production. The picture was directed, produced, and written by Izidore Musallam. He's perhaps best known for directing Adam & Eve, which, as featured on imdb, is defined by the plot keywords: "sex standing up". I'd love to see that one someday. This one, Nothing To Lose, is as bad as they come. I feel sorry for Paul Gleason, having died and all with this picture (amongst several more terrible ones) standing out on his resume. Who knows? Perhaps, at the time, he had...*

*I refuse to say it


brian said...

Steve, thus far you are 1 for 4 with your "recommendations".

Sam said...

The best - that is, the worst - is yet to come!!! I just KNEW eventually these pieces of poop would serve some legitimate purpose! That review was hilarious, Brian!

Sam said...

The best - that is, the worst - is yet to come!!! I just KNEW eventually these pieces of poop would serve some legitimate purpose! That review was hilarious, Brian!

steve said...

Ooops! Sorry about that! Not just the double-posting, but also the whole masquerading-as-Sam business. It's a thing I do sometimes, when I'm trying to score with Columbia coeds ...

brian said...

Note to self: keep Steve miles away from my username and password at all times.

brian said...

It really is striking to see a guy like Paul Gleason in a film like this. His competency shines through like a lightning bug stuck in shit. It's jarring really. It just makes everyone else in this picture look that much worse. And, this is Paul Gleason I'm talking about! Not Sir Laurence Olivier OR Peter O'toole fer chrissakes!

Sam said...

Geez, does this explain why I keep getting irate phone calls from debt collection agencies? Does it explain that unwashed pair of extra-large panties shoved through my mail slot? The incessant text messaging from Columbia President Lee Bollinger?

Sam said...

I love the line about the dollar being as weak as the guy's tea. There's just no comeback to a barb like that.

brian said...

Yep, that's exactly why the guns came out immediately following.