Murphy & Lawrence Share a Life to be Laughed at
From the plot outline, "Life" sounds a bit weak as you would think it was all about an illegal booze run, in fact "Life" is all about the growing friendship of two men who together overcome everything that is thrown at them whilst in prison. It sounds a perfect idea for a serious drama, even a little bit "Shawshank" but it is in fact a half decent comedy, which uses the comic talents of Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence to provide some over the top amusement in a prison setting.
In 1930's New York, Ray Gibson (Eddie Murphy - Doctor Dolittle) is a small time con artist and pick pocket who one night in a New York bar picks the pocket of straight laced Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence - Bad Boys). For completely different reasons, they get in trouble with the Bar owner and are forced to go on a Boot Legging run across Mississippi to get them off the hook. But on the trip, they are incorrectly accused of murder, and are both sentenced to life in prison where they end up becoming best of friends, desperate to get out.
"Life" could have easily ended up just a movie to showcase the comic talents of Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, but instead it has a sentimental side with a nice story and many very funny scenes. One of my favourite is when Ray is describing the Night Club he wants to own "Ray's Boom Boom Room", all the prisoners who are listening can imagine themselves at the Club, it is one of the most uplifting and funny scenes I have seen in a while and quite surprising for what could have been just another comedy.
The lead stars in "Life" are Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Too be honest I have never been a fan of either as the movies I have seen them in seem to rely on there loudness rather than acting skills. So I was surprised to watch "Life" and see some enjoyable performances that although used there comic talents to maximum effect, it also showed them both as more than capable actors who could display a whole range of emotions. It's by no means great acting but both Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence show another side to them which helps endear their funny characters to us.
All the supporting cast do good jobs at keeping things moving, but special mention should go to Miguel A. Nunez Jr. and Bernie Mac who always give very good performances. The best thing about the cast in "Life" is that no one tries to steal the limelight and that leaves the main star of the movie to be the story.
"Life" is directed by Ted Demme, who has done a more than adequate job of making a very good comedy. With such a cast he could have easily just let the humour run riot and forget about the story, but he has shown restraint and in doing so has let the script work it's magic. Another reason why he has done such a good job is that he has kept it simple. There are no huge special effects or breathtaking shots which will take your breath away; he has relied on the story and performances to make the movie work.
An important factor of "Life" is that it spans over 60 years, and in doing so the costume designers and scene decorators have done a great job of recreating each era very realistically. Along with this, the makeup department had to deal with ageing several stars of the movie and they have done this equally realistically. The soundtrack to "Life" is very diverse but is also very good and helps set the period, there are some very nice bluesy numbers but it also has some lovely beautiful numbers. With such stars as Wyclef Jean and R. Kelly providing songs for the movie, I can honestly say that the soundtrack is very enjoyable.
What this all boils down to is that if I was going to try and compare "Life" to other movies, I would put it in-between "Stir Crazy" and "The Shawshank Redemption", as it is not as funny as "Stir Crazy" and not as serious as "The Shawshank Redemption". "Life" is truly one of the most enjoyable modern comedies which rely on an equal balance of story, sentiment and humour to make it a very good movie. Plus the pairing of Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence works well bouncing off each other with out trying to out do each other.