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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Life

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence
Director: Ted Demme
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: April 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Lisa Nicole Carson, Nick Cassavetes, Obba Babatunde

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Although Ted Demme's LIFE makes you wait until the ending credits, it does eventually deliver on its promising casting. As shown in the outtakes, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence can be quite funny together as they flub their lines and generally ham it up. They also show evidence of good chemistry together, something that the body of the movie has trouble demonstrating.

How's this for a questionable concept for a movie? A slice of life story about two prisoners in "for the long ride" -- life in prison. The uneventful script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone contains little in the way of comedy or drama. And rather than pumping up this modest story, the director restrains his actors. The result is that the audience has to wait until the end for Murphy and Lawrence to show off their talent. Most of the movie has respectable actors delivering reverential performances in a film that lacks much-needed oomph.

Thanks to set designer Dan Bishop (LONE STAR), the picture does provide some impressive atmospherics. (The story takes place from 1932 until about 40 years later) The Southern, "coloreds only" prison is a ragtag collection of decaying buildings. Not seeing the need for barbed wire, the prison has a "gun line" instead. Step outside of it, and they bury you that afternoon.

The prison is not quite as bad a place as it sounds. The men get conjugal visits, and, for a nominal fee, temporary marriages can be instantly authorized. And for all of the white overseer's bluster, he's frequently more friend than foe.

Still, there's no way out for prisoners #4316 (Murphy) and #4317 (Lawrence), not that they don't try often enough. Their failed attempts, which are never with enough humor, are the story's on-going joke. About the only prisoner who looks like he might get himself an exit visa is a speechless guy named Can't Get Right (Bokeem Woodbine). He may be awarded an athletic scholarship of sorts since the one thing he can get right is swatting a baseball over the far distant trees.

The movie does contain some nice sections. Using 4 decades of archival footage of news events of the era, Demme sets the context of the times. The story's most poignant scene comes when a convincingly aged Lawrence looks for the first time in 30 years at a town full of people. Like Rip Van Winkle, his body freezes and his eyes glaze over as he looks at the changes in people's clothing and hairstyles.

Ending first with a nicely ambiguous twist, the movie then feels compelled to spell everything out for us. After unleashing our imaginations, why does the film have to treat us like little kids who have to know all the answers? Do they think we would demand our money back if the film left some doubt as to the story's precise resolution?

LIFE runs too long at 1:48. It is rated R for some profanity, violence and mature themes and would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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