‘A Lot of Nothing’ Review: The Cop Next Door

Mo McRae’s feature debut, about a well-off Black couple and their white neighbor, is more of a trauma drama than a satirical thriller.

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By Lisa Kennedy

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In “A Lot of Nothing,” James and Vanessa, a Black couple, are watching television on the couch in their well-appointed Los Angeles home when a news flash alerts them to “another officer-involved shooting.” James (Y’lan Noel), a corporate lawyer, and Vanessa (Cleopatra Coleman), who works in finance, are rattled and furious. Then they learn that the cop is their white neighbor, Brian (Justin Hartley), with whom Vanessa has already had words — following his contemptuous use of “you people.”

After a little fury-as-foreplay sex and a tense day at their respective offices, they spin into action, but their confrontation with Brian on his doorstep spins out of control. Things become thornier still when James’s brother, Jamal (Shamier Anderson), and Candy (Lex Scott Davis), Jamal’s “baby mama” — as Vanessa says derisively — arrive for dinner.

In his feature debut, the director Mo McRae displays a nice way with actors and a gift for visual tension, but in aiming for absurdist humor, he lands on something more vexing. It’s the script — by McRae and Sarah Kelly Kaplan — that’s the problem. “A Lot of Nothing” touches on microaggressions, colorism, class, gentrification, fertility, veganism and the sexual fantasies of a biracial Black woman who is this movie’s update on the tragic mulatto trope.

More of a trauma drama than a satirical thriller, it never lets up on the buttons it’s pushing or the characters it’s manipulating. Viewers are whiplashed away from empathy and insight, and toward a feeling of superiority to everyone and everything onscreen. Given the film’s precipitating news bulletin and the recent events in Memphis, superiority would seem to be just about the last thing we’ve earned.

A Lot of Nothing
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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