Eddie Murphy teams up with fellow comic Martin Lawrence (Bad
Boys, and the upcoming Blue Streak) for this comedy/drama about two
black men imprisoned for life on a Mississippi prison camp.
The film opens in New York, in 1932, during prohibition. Ray
(Murphy) is a smooth, fast talking con man with big dreams. Claude
(Lawrence) is straight laced and honest, and due to start work as a
bank teller. The two men meet at a night club run by notorious
gangster Spanky (Rick James). But when both men owe Spanky money,
they are forced to drive to Mississippi and bring back a truckload of
moonshine liquor. While in Mississippi the pair find themselves
framed for a murder they didn't commit, and are sentenced to life with
hard labour on a prison camp. The two spend most of their time
bickering, but over the course of their incarceration, a bond of
friendship slowly develops.
For much of its duration, Life falls back upon the tired and
predictable formula of the odd couple-buddy comedy, as the two stars
trade barbs and one-liners. The comic elements at times recall the
antics of Stir Crazy (1981). But amongst the generous dollops of
humour there is also a more serious side to Life. Writers Robert
Ramsey and Matthew Stone (the little seen comedy Destiny Turns On The
Radio) attempt to portray the hardship and brutality of life for
blacks on the chain gangs in America's deep south during the '40's and
'50's. However, noble ambition is let down by a rather superficial
script that tends to soft pedal for much of the time.
Life spans some five decades, although the most effective
sequence is that in which the film cleverly traces the passage of time
and the changing face of America during this time. Make up genius
Rick Baker brilliantly ages his two stars.
Director Ted Demme (Beautiful Girls, etc) manages to draw a
more restrained performance out of the usually exuberant Murphy, who
seems perfectly at home with the seemingly tailor-made role of the
charismatic, fast talking Ray. Lawrence brings a touch of overwrought
energy and compassion to his role as Claude, the truly innocent victim
of blind justice. The two develop a strong rapport that carries the
movie. Life also wastes a solid ensemble supporting cast in roles
that amount to little more than familiar cliches of the prison
While Life has some quite funny and touching moments,
ultimately the film proves a little disappointing.
Copyright © 1999 Greg King