If there’s one thing about Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali that you can take to the bank, it’s that the guy really, really likes to make movies that challenge him as a director. No one gets better mileage out of so little than Natali, who has done wonders with the resource-challenged “Cube”, the minimally budgeted “Elevated”, and the moderately budgeted “Cypher”, the budget of which is probably more than all of Natali’s previous movies combined. With “Nothing”, Natali has brought back his favorite muse, David Hewlett (who can currently be seen fighting aliens on “Stargate: Atlantis”), for an adventure in strangeness.
Essentially a movie about two losers named Dave (Hewlett) and Andrew (co-writer Andrew Miller), “Nothing” follows the two men as their lives fall apart even more than it already has up to this point. To wit: Dave is framed for embezzlement at work and Andrew is accused of molestation by a vindictive girl scout (don’t ask). As the world, the police, and a demolition crew sent by the city to tear down Andrew’s beloved house (and Dave’s only source of residence) beats down their doors, the two men wishes the world away — and it works! Dave and Andrew come out of their house to find a big white void where the world used to be. The only thing that still remains is themselves and everything inside their house.
Obviously, this type of high-concept, but limited in scope, premise demands a director who can handle what should naturally be a 30-minute short film, but has instead been turned into a 90-minute feature. Without a doubt, Natali is the right man for the job. As he did with his short film “Elevated”, the bulk of “Nowhere” relies on Dave and Andrew’s interaction, which itself relies on a decent script from which to form a stable foundation. Luckily the script is more than decent, at first heaping as much grief onto our two hapless heroes as possible, and then stripping everything away until only their personalities, and unresolved conflicts, remain.
With the world having vanished, Dave and Andrew go about investigating the white void. They find, not surprisingly, more white nothing. And oh yeah, the “ground” seems to have a tofu-like quality — soft, tastes like nothing, and they can bounce on it like a trampoline. The two men eventually realize that the world vanished because they wished it to, and that they have, essentially, the power of Gods! But wait, there’s a catch. They can hate things away, but can’t make anything appear. With this newfound (and wholly ridiculous) God-like power comes trouble, especially when the two start to have issues with one another. Issues they didn’t realize they had until everyone disappeared and all that’s left is the two of them.
The cast of “Nothing” consists of the two lead actors for 90% of the film. (Unless you count Andrew’s turtle Stan.) Actor Andrew Miller is new to me, but David Hewlett is an old face, especially since he seems to be in every Vincenzo Natali film ever made. Hewlett, who is quite possibly the best thing about the “Stargate: Atlantis” TV show, is wonderful here, not to mention looking surprisingly more in shape than usual. Normally Hewlett is relegated to playing smarmy scientists that you just love to hate, but here he’s a smarmy loser that you just love to hate. Big difference, no?
While Dave isn’t the most likeable character, he’s affable enough that you can stand him, especially since we all have friends like him, rather we want to admit it or not. Andrew, as well, is another friend we all have. Shy, scared, and paralyzed in any social setting, Andrew would be almost insufferable if he wasn’t so dependant on your kindness to survive. Miller makes for an excellent Andrew, especially in the second half, when the neurotic Andrew has a personality shift, having “hated away” the problematic childhood that had been hampering his progress through life.
No surprise, then, that it’s this “hating away” gimmick that takes over the second half of “Nothing”, bringing about some hilarious conflicts between the two men as they resolve to spite each other, but at the same time keep from hating away their house. It all makes “Nothing” very fascinating to look at. After the first 20 minutes, the rest of the movie consists of Dave and Andrew and their strange, two-floor house sitting in the middle of white emptiness. The film’s set designs are just outstanding, and will no doubt remind viewers of the wacky “out there” vibe of a Charlie Kaufman film. There are even a series of title cards in the beginning that informs us this is all “based on a true story”. Sure it is. And Madonna is not faking that tacky British accent at all.
As a goofy, slapstick comedy in the veins of a “Three Stooges” film, “Nothing” works remarkably well, mostly thanks to the performances of Hewlett as the self-absorbed jerk and Miller as the weakling with a bad case of agoraphobia. In some ways, “Nothing” could have undermined its comedic effectiveness by trying to embrace ambition via existential or esoteric themes. The whole notion of blinking the world out of existence, or the catch-22 with Dave and Andrew’s ability to hate things away, but unable to bring them back or make new things, are all fodder for anyone prone to digging very deep into comedies. I.e. building something new is harder than destroying it, etc etc.
Then again, if you were just looking for a fun and entertaining movie, “Nothing” more than holds its own for 85 minutes. Coming after “Cypher”, a film that was more flash than substance, it’s good to see Natali go back to more creative ventures that forces him to bend the rules to achieve creativity. “Nothing” has some nice special effects, but they hardly make the film outstanding. It’s the idea behind “Nothing” that matters. The idea, and the ability to pull it off behind, and in front, of the camera.
Vincenzo Natali (director) / Andrew Lowery, Andrew Miller (screenplay)
CAST: David Hewlett …. Dave
Andrew Miller …. Andrew