f 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
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
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.