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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.93%
Worth A Look: 19.4%
Pretty Bad: 13.43%
Total Crap: 17.91%

6 reviews, 31 user ratings

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Life (1999)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"'Shawshank Redemption' for dummies."
1 stars

Ah, the mass audience does love its comforting prison stories. The guards may be tough, the conditions may be harsh, but you get to put roots down in one spot for an extended period, and you make some great friends.

Even such an accomplished prison film as The Shawshank Redemption fell for this sentimental view of life behind bars (I much prefer the balls-to-the-walls spit and snarl of HBO's Oz), and now there is Life, which tries to turn the subject into a comedy vehicle for Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. It's basically Shawshank meets Stir Crazy, and it's pretty much a crock -- unfunny when it's meant to be funny, unmoving when it's at its most synthetically poignant.

Murphy and Lawrence are two mismatched, inexperienced bootleggers -- Murphy a con man, Lawrence a prim and proper bank teller -- who are framed for murder and sentenced to life in a loosely structured Mississippi work prison. There are no fences; instead, the cons are told that if they cross a certain line, they will simply be shot. With one maudlin exception, no one is shot in this way, and nobody really undergoes any suffering that we can see; it's more like a juvenile-delinquent boot camp than like a real prison. The rigors of hard labor certainly don't seem to touch Eddie or Martin. Their characters never change; at most, they become a little more frustrated and irritable.

There are about 50 interesting subtexts in Life that the director, Ted Demme, and screenwriters, Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (they also wrote Destiny Turns on the Radio), never move themselves to explore or acknowledge. In this prison, for instance, the racism seems a lot less vicious than it is on the outside; there is a nasty white guard, but he has an even nastier black right-hand man, who has violent contempt for the black convicts. I would've liked to know why, and I would've liked to discover why the white guard seems to soften towards Eddie and Martin over the years (the film spans about 60). Most of the convicts -- a hulking bruiser, a delicate gay con, a mischievous-looking nerd in specs who never gets to do anything -- are similarly underwritten, but then so are the leads.

Murphy and Lawrence never quite move beyond shtick in this movie; even when tragedy strikes, all they can do is put on their serious faces. The progressive old-age make-up -- by Rick Baker, who did much better (and deservedly Oscar-winning) work with Murphy in The Nutty Professor -- underscores the artificiality of the performances. Weighed down with pounds of fake-looking wrinkly latex, Murphy and Lawrence do simplistic codger voices, but they don't move like actual septuagenarians -- particularly when Lawrence sprints across a yard like a man in his twenties. Their performances have no wildness, no invention; it's their usual routines spread out across 60 years, or 104 minutes that feel like 60 years.

Life was directed by Ted Demme, the nephew of Jonathan (The Silence of the Lambs) and a fine filmmaker in his own right -- he made The Ref, Beautiful Girls, and last year's overlooked gem Monument Ave, which had the anger and despair that Life could have used as a springboard for some truly daring humor. Demme is just going through the motions here; his main theme, it's clear by now, is guys sitting around bitching about life, but Life has too much bitching and not enough life.

I certainly wouldn't hold up 'Stir Crazy' as a comedy masterpiece, but there are scenes in it I remember after 18 years -- Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder's famous "We bad" entrance; Wilder spending a stretch in the hole, then being disappointed upon getting let out ("I was just beginning to find myself"); a bald, fearsome, gargantuan convict starting to sing in a soft, high, lovely voice. Three scenes aren't much, but that's more than I'll remember from 'Life' 18 days from now, let alone 18 years.

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originally posted: 01/21/07 07:52:37
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User Comments

6/21/17 Anne Selby maybe this was based on a true story??yet I loved it as a bit of farce 3 stars
9/27/12 wes Dude your never gonna get it. Its just not yout type of movie. Stick to walt Disney instead 5 stars
8/24/12 roscoe fair but did not mesh. plus, not that funny 3 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
8/26/05 ES Had its moments, a good watch if its on TV (at the beginning) on a lazy afternoon 3 stars
12/10/03 Samuel "FUNNY!" 3 stars
12/09/03 Baby Dee This movie was good. Not only hillarius but dramatic at times. IT IS GOOD! 3 stars
12/07/03 J Hilarious Eddy and Martin at there best! **** out 4 4 stars
6/22/03 Ghetto Smurf Hilaurious 5 stars
3/13/03 adny its the funniest movie ever 5 stars
11/01/02 Johnathan Mull I thought this movie was great! Watch it again and take your head out of your ass! 5 stars
10/16/02 Jennifer I saw the movie like 30 times 5 stars
9/18/02 Michelle I liked how they took a serious subject, and turned it into a comedy. Its a good movie 5 stars
7/29/02 Croweater Saved by Murphy too a large degree, as Martin Lawrence sucks as usual. 2 stars
1/11/02 Andrew Carden Beatty Is The Only Light In This Dark and Unfunny Movie. 2 stars
11/27/01 malcolm funny movie in a very unfunny situation. i would've liked to see more of Bernie Mac. 4 stars
9/05/01 Butterbean If it was advertised as a drama instead of a comedy, I wouldn't have been disappointed.. 3 stars
8/07/01 Joe Zappa Co-written by Matt Stone, starring Eddie Murphy & Martin Lawrence. 1 flaw: Martin Lawrence 4 stars
1/27/01 lesbi lover No one in this movie is hot. 4 stars
9/13/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble For once Mr. Lawrence wasn't an embarassment to the black community. 3 stars
4/28/00 fire-n-ice could have been eddie murphy in a while 4 stars
2/09/00 Jess Bennett This movie is beautiful. It has heart and his well acted. Some stuff is unrealistic. 5 stars
11/29/99 Crystal Fleming Ok entertainment 3 stars
6/29/99 Mark Reilly Best Eddie Murphy movie im a LONG time 4 stars
6/26/99 David 2 stars are great, film is a real yawner. Episodic nothingness. 2 stars
4/26/99 Daddy Rich One of the funniest movies I have seen. This is the Eddie Murphy we all love. 5 stars
4/26/99 jeff hounchell Two comedic superstars, BUT....the movie cudda have been MUCH funnier!!!!!! 3 stars
4/25/99 XenoWolf the humor is alright 3 stars
4/19/99 agustin more sad than funny 3 stars
1/06/99 The Dude Eddie Murphy is great-he has redeemed himself from Holy Man-its great 5 stars
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  16-Apr-1999 (R)



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