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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 Greg King
2½ stars out of 4

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 movie genre.

While Life has some quite funny and touching moments, ultimately the film proves a little disappointing.

Copyright 1999 Greg King

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