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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 Akiva Gottlieb
3 stars out of 4

LIFE, Ted Demme's wonderful new film, falls prey to the predator called marketing. Anyone who has seen the film's trailer and/or poster will simply dismiss the film as another dumb Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence vehicle, either filled with offensive jokes or strictly for the kids. Such things happen when an actors become typecast, as Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence have, but their new film, LIFE, is as expansive as it's title indicates.

Ray and Claude(Murphy and Lawrence, respectively), two practical strangers living in Harlem, meet when they are forced to retrieve many cases of beer for the local kingpin, Spanky, because of debts they each owe. As they travel down to Mississippi, they lose all of their money gambling to a hotshot whom they later find dead right in front of their eyes. The man was beaten to death by a cop, but the hicks who find the two black men suspect him immediately, and before they know it they are sentenced to prison for life; hence the title.

The Mississippi State Prison of LIFE is a fairly lenient one. The prison is actually a large farm with no gates, but a boundary called the "gun line". Ray and Claude form an unlikely partnership, even though Claude still blames Ray for getting them into the prison. Among the colleagues they meet, the most memorable ones(I forget his name, but it's long) is a silent man(Bokeem Woodbine) who, because of his baseball ablility, is able to escape the prison for the Negro Leagues, and a homosexual inmate who is granted a pardon but decides to commit suicide instead of letting his parents see what's happened to him while in jail.

As Ray and Claude get older, the film begins to grow on the viewer more and more. After a few failed escape attempts during their lifetime, the two men are beginning to ponder their own existence and wonder why they're wasting their time. But they never lose hope.

These qualities of the film, among others, compare favorably with the Oscar winning Italian film LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. Like LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, LIFE's characters try to provide humor and dreams to get them through their suffering. Ray sparks the interest of his cellmates when they all begin to dream about their place in Ray's Boom Boom Room, a nightclub in which they all play their own little part. Ray and Claude help prove the universal theory that hope and faith can get anyone through the worst of times.

Director Ted Demme(BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, MONUMENT AVE.), nephew of director Jonathan Demme(SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA) lets his actors shine in roles that flaunt their dramatic and comedic acting abilities. The film never really addresses subjects like racism head-on, but the film does, in a much deeper way, help unite a feeling of peace, instead of violence. The film then ends on a happy note, before subjecting the viewer to the unneccesary outtakes. But LIFE is still one of the year's most unexpected surprises. The film pulls no punches in getting it's way to your heart, and it proves that life, though not always beautiful, is always worth living.

Copyright 1999 Akiva Gottlieb

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