"Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence are making the most out of _Life_."
It's a fairly standard tagline, but it speaks more than perhaps its writer
intended. Indeed, the well-matched pair make the most of what the makers
of _Life_ give them, but what the material they are given isn't nearly as
inspired as they are.
The combination of two comic firecrackers such as Murphy and Lawrence
should add up to something explosively funny, and they do have their choice
moments as New Yorkers Ray Gibson and Claude Banks, respectively, who are
given a lifetime sentence in a Mississippi prison work camp for a murder
they did not commit. It sounds rife with comic potential, but for some
reason writers Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, along with director Ted
Demme aren't content with _Life_ being a breezy comic lark. No, it also
has to hold some dramatic weight as well.
Granted, life imprisonment, let alone _wrongful_ life imprisonment, is no
walk in the park. But serious touches such as one inmate's self-sacrifice
fail to register because there's no real emotional connection to the
audience--to the story or the characters. Ray and Claude are likable
enough, but the audience has no emotional investment in them; viewers just
want to see do more of their comic sparring. The attempts at drama do add
some weight, all right--as in weighing down and slowing the proceedings,
not adding psychological or emotional heft.
That said, when given the chance to strut their comedic stuff, Murphy
and Lawrence do not disappoint. Murphy does his tried-and-true smart aleck
routine, but Lawrence goes against type somewhat by playing a complete
square, and he comes off a bit too whiny at times. Nonetheless, the two
have a natural ease with each other (as shown in their last film together,
1992's _Boomerang_), and a number of scenes strike sparks.
But there aren't enough of these sparks to make the film ignite. The
preview audience with whom I saw the film seemed rather content with the
film, and their feelings could very well be mirrored in multiplex
auditoriums across the country this weekend. But for me, _Life_, given the
raw comedic talent and energy at its disposal, simply doesn't have enough
life to it.