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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 Walter Frith
1½ stars out of 4

In his youth and motion picture debut in 1982 with '48 HRS.', Eddie Murphy was full of vigour and zest. He never compromised with his overly brash style of expressing four letter words. As part of an adult movie story, it worked. His wise cracking and improvisation also helped many movie screenplays when writers had trouble spicing up a scene. Many criticized Murphy for it and many other socially controversial things contained within his comedy, and a lot of the criticism was justified. But if you judge him ONLY on his movie performances, he was great. If any performer can contribute between 5 and 10 great pictures to this world, they're lucky. '48 HRS.', 'Trading Places', 'Beverly Hills Cop', 'Beverly Hills Cop II', and 'Coming to America' are all great classic films in their own way for their genre.

All of these things have gone the way of the dinosaur in the 90's. The only Murphy film I enjoy watching over and over again in this decade is 1992's 'The Distinguished Gentleman'. It was a unique and refined comedy that worked for Murphy that gracefully went with his aging into a new decade, and his attempt to diversify was a good idea, especially after ending the 80's with the disastrous 'Harlem Nights' in 1989 and entering the 90's with the glib 'Another 48 HRS.', which no one asked for. Since then, films like 'Vampire in Brooklyn', 'Beverly Hills Cop III', 'The Nutty Professor' and 'Doctor Dolittle' have all been tiresome, unoriginal, repetitive or shallow. 'Life' changes none of this. It's too bad that Murphy hasn't figured out yet that to be a true and all around legend in the movie business, you have to embrace film audiences by appealing to different sides of their taste. This has worked for Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Dan Aykroyd, who have all done serious roles and have won the respect of the critics as well as audiences. Murphy's career can best be compared to the great Laurel and Hardy. Not directly but only in the sense that their peak was in the 1930's and they totally crashed and burned in the 40's. Ditto with Murphy when comparing his 80's work with the 90's.

In 'Life', set at the beginning in 1932, Murphy, along with Martin Lawrence, play two New Yorkers involved with a local gang boss in one form or another who are in debt and must make good for it. Murphy talks the boss man into letting him and Lawrence go to Mississippi and bring back some moonshine. Bootlegging. Their first mistake. While in the Magnolia state, Murphy gambles away their traveling money and Lawrence flirts with a bar tramp even though he has a steady girlfriend at home. Their second mistake. They accidentally come across a dead body of a man who cheated Murphy at cards earlier in the evening and they remain at his side for too long. And that's the last mistake they ever make in the free world. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time gets them life imprisonment, even though they're totally innocent and the two of them spend the next 65 years together in the big house.

The film is told in flashback at the beginning and takes us back through the years leading up to the film's excellent finale. Unfortunately, the film is extremely uneven and is another misfire in the typical style of early spring time releases. Murphy used to get summer or Christmas time but now, has to settle for having his film released at one of the worst times of the year for quality. The opening half hour is surprisingly too dramatic, the mid section is loaded with gags that aren't funny, clearly seeing that Murphy's heart is no longer in comedy. The scenes strung together in this film look like they were done in one take and what's most shocking of all is that I liked the out takes at the end over the closing credits more than a good portion of the film. That's scary.

Director Ted Demme ('The Ref') stigmatizes his cast, is a slave to the film's script and has no eye for comedy. What really sold the film for me was Martin Lawrence. He doesn't try to over do it the way Murphy does. Lawrence is steady, more relaxed and more polished and another good asset the film has is its make-up. Seeing the two of them at age 90, combined with their excellent performances as extremely old men, make Murphy and Lawrence an asset to the film's last half hour as the film really shines, finally. Too bad the mid section is as exciting as reading out dated magazines in a doctor's office

Copyright 1999 Walter Frith

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