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New York, 1932 and two small-time suckers - smart-mouthed Ray Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and would-be bank clerk Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) - meet over a picked pocket. They narrowly escape with their kneecaps intact when neither is able to repay gambling debts. The mismatched and accidental pair are allowed one last chance to redeem their debt: drive down to Mississippi, pick up a load of bootleg hooch and return. Unable to resist the kind of trouble that scuppered them in the first place, Ray and Claude are wrongfully arrested for murder and sentenced to life. They spend their rest of their long lives on a Mississippi prison farm, bickering, toiling, plotting and scheming foiled escapes right through the 40s, 50s, 60s and into the 70s. The end is sweet and unexpected and will not be revealed here.

"The idea for Life came to Eddie Murphy during the filming of The Nutty Professor. He walked up to producer Brian Grazer and said, Life. From this cryptic beginning grew a curious comedy-drama about one of the most chilling words in the English language. Possibly only a black man could make anything funny out of the Mississippi prison farm system, which perpetuated (and still perpetuates) virtual slavery. Possibly Life is the only way to tell such a story Ė of injustice, cruelty, sorrow and lives thrown away simply because they are black lives. Possibly. This is still an Eddie Murphy vehicle however, (with an able sidekick in Martin Lawrence) and the wisecracking begins to fall flat as the decades pass and Ray and Claude dig ditches and grow cotton. There is a nod to the idea of how their world doesn't change, while outside the world is whirling through a world war, Elvis, JFK, Martin Luther King and Jimi Hendrix, but neither the script (bitty), nor the direction (flaccid), is up to the challenge. That it works at all is because Murphy and Lawrence are supported by a high-calibre cast of characters - mostly black inmates, but some beautifully drawn ugly, ugly whities. It also looks handsome and the production values are high. As the two young dudes slowly age into cranky old men their make-up is astonishing (by Rick Baker who also turned Murphy into the nutty professor) and it is backed up by sensitively measured performances from both actors. An interesting try that misses the mark."
Diana Simmonds

"Film marketing is an interesting business. The combination of comics Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence would seem irresistible, and we would expect, if one were to believe the promos, some kind of near-farce experience. It's precisely the fact that what you see here is NOT what you get, that makes Life an unexpected pleasure. Yes, it has a lot of humour, but it's a film that presents its material with a great deal of subtlety and even humanity. It's the least likely film you'd expect to find this pair of raucous and ingenious comic performers, yet they handle the task at hand with remarkable depth. It's also a film that paints an interesting picture of Black America, from the thirties to the seventies, without resorting to overt politicising. It's simply there for us to see, as this pair of inmates survives together for six decades, through an interesting period of American social and political change. Films that deal with the Afro-American experience rarely get a chance to work commercially, which is unfortunate, since their stories are compelling and full of power. Though Ted Demme's film punctuates those experiences with typical humour, the comedy is based more on character than situation, a rarity for Hollywood cinema. The film boasts some wonderful ensemble work all round. Murphy and Lawrence are both superb (with the latter cast against type and doing splendidly). Murphy begins as his old self, delivering the film's sharp dialogue at breakneck speed, yet pausing long enough to make us feel that there's something more to his idealistic Ray Gibson than meets the eye. Directed with precision by Ted Demme (who crafted the underrated Beautiful Girls), Life is a comic tale of friendship and race during America's changing political landscape. It's an intelligent and arresting film, wonderfully engaging and somewhat exquisite in its detail."
Paul Fischer

"This is something of a personal project for Eddie Murphy, who came up with the original idea as well as being star and co-producer. Aimed, at a guess, largely at a black US audience, itís a comedy about oppression and wasted lives Ė a heavy burden for any movie to carry, though the tone is raucous and mainly good-humored. Framed as a tall tale spun by the prisonís oldest inhabitant, the film presents itself as a piece of modern folklore, drawing on stock characters and situations (the sadistic warden, the hulking prisoners who turn out to have hearts of gold) in a consciously old-fashioned way. As a fable spanning more than six decades, itís the anti-Forrest Gump: history is something impossibly remote, marching past in occasional snippets from faded newsreels, while inside the prison nothing really changes. Friends and foes may die off, conditions may improve, but the system remains intact, keeping Rayford and Claude in their place from the Ď20s to the present day. This ironic defeatism is the basic joke Ė one escape plan after another is foiled by a last-minute twist of fate, as if the unfairness of society were part of the nature of things. Life isnít the funniest film of the year: the script isnít massively inventive, and Murphy and Lawrence donít move much beyond their standard roles as, respectively, fast-talking hipster and faintly goofy straight-man. But itís rare to see a Hollywood comedy that unassumingly tackles a subject this resonant and grim."
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Obba Babatundť, Nick Cassavetes, Bokeem Woodbine, Ned Beatty, Clarence Williams III


PRODUCER: Eddie Murphy, Brian Grazer

SCRIPT: Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone


EDITOR: Jeffrey Wolf

MUSIC: Wyclef Jean


RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: January 19, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

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