Universal // 1999 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 1st, 2000
The Shawshank Redemption, if directed by Mel Brooks.
Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence are together for the first time in the Universal Pictures comedy Life. For many fans this was a comedic dream team. Released in 1999, Life was not the box office smash many Hollywood insiders thought it would be (especially considering the amount of talent involved). Universal has released Life on DVD with not only the movie, but a gaggle of supplemental materials. Here's the "lock-down" on the movie!
Ray Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) are in more than just trouble. See, the two of them have been accused of the murder of a man they didn't kill in Mississippi in 1932. Being black men AND residing in Mississippi, this doesn't bode well for either of them. They're sent up the river for "life," having all the time in the world to spend together.
Over the course of their sentence, Ray and Claude are forced to get to know each other (and the other inmates) as they grow older and bitter. But even behind the walls of prison, true friendship can blossom. Soon they are trying to piece together why they were framed and how to escape from their life of imprisonment!
Sharp comedy and broad slapstick ensues as Ray and Claude find out just what the meaning of "Life" really is.
Back in early 1999 I was able to see a sneak preview of Life. I wasn't really expecting much, as I had seen the show "Martin" and was not a very big fan of Lawrence. Eddie Murphy had done The Nutty Professor, but not much else that was worth mentioning up to that point (and if you point out Dr. Doolittle as an example, you apparently ate aquarium gravel when you were a child ).
How surprising it was to find that I really enjoyed watching Life. Although the script was nothing especially original (it really is the comedic equivalent of The Shawshank Redemption), the performances sold it as a true, thoroughly funny comedy.
Eddie Murphy gives a great performance as Ray, a cocky, self assured pick-pocket who is (usually) able to talk his way out of most situations. For once, Murphy plays cocky with fun, not with mean spiritedness. His Ray is a funny, genial guy who is just trying to make a little money and open up his own bar, "Ray's Boom-Boom Room."
As mentioned, I was not a fan of Martin Lawrence walking into Life. I had seen Nothing To Lose, the comedy he did with Tim Robbins, and thought that was decent, but with Martin playing a variation on his popular TV character. I was impressed to the ceiling with his portrayal of Claude, a bank teller caught up in the middle of a scam he has nothing to do with. Lawrence plays the character as very down to earth and levelheaded, without the obnoxious tint that I've seen in his other work. Claude turns out to be a very likable character, and I give much credit to Lawrence for pulling that off.
Many of the other supporting characters did a fine job of making me laugh as well, including Miguel Nunez, Jr. as "Biscuit," a very funny homosexual character. Bernie Mac as "Jangle Leg" also does a very funny turn as one of the inmates. And the always dependable R. Lee Emery does a nice turn as a guy who you know is up to something shady. Overall, the cast is a great ensemble group, led by two natural talents.
Finally, director Ted Demme (brother of Silence Of The Lambs director Jonathan Demme) displays a very sure directing hand with the two stars. The story has a good amount of poignancy and humor, well balanced by Demme's directing.
Life is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is a beautiful transfer by Universal. I could spot no real color bleeding, digital artifacting or soft spots anywhere on the DVD. Overall, you are hitting the top of the heap with this transfer when it comes to DVD. Very nice, Universal.
Audio of Dolby Digital 5.1 is also nice, with no muddling of dialogue or music. This is not an effects heavy show (in other words, there's no Stallone running around yelling obscenities and blowing things up), so sound effects are somewhat kept to a minimum. Once again, a nice job by Universal.
Although not a "Collector's Edition" disc, Life has plenty of goodies to feast your eyes on. First off we get a 20-minute "Spotlight On Location" documentary about the making of Life, including interviews with Murphy, Lawrence, director Demme and producer Brian Grazer. It's an interesting (if really promotional) look at the behind-the-scenes aspect of the film.
Also included is a feature commentary with Demme, who sounds like he has a true love for the film. He is often enthusiastic and has interesting stories about different scenes (including referring to the prisoners as the "Hogan's Heroes" of the movie). A fun listen, and good for a few laughs.
Of the big extras, the final one is a gag reel of outtakes/director's edits from the film. Both are fun to watch (as gag reels most often are), and the director's edits include some information from the director hie ending), and there were characters that were somewhat stereotypical prison inmates. One other complaint is the fact that Rick James plays a mobster in the beginning scene. I think I could have lived a complete and full life withouthaving seen him act.
All of this, of course, is very minor considering that this is a very funny film with very good performances.
SUPER FREAKY! (You knew I had to say that at least once).
For the price, this disc is a nice nd considering the theme of this movie, I will spare you all the "prison/courtroom" jokes.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Info
* Theatrical Trailer
* Featurette "Spotlight On Location"
* Outtakes/Director's Edits
* Two Music Videos (K-Ci & Jo Jo and Maxwell)
* DVD-ROM features
* Universal Showcase