Life (1999, USA)
When the best line in this comedy is from the last of a series of out-takes as the final credits are rolling over, you can be pretty sure that it’s been a waste of time.
Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play two New Yorkers (Ray, a slick shyster and Claude, a conservative bank-teller-to-be, respectively) who find themselves owing money to the same heavy nightclub owner. It is 1932, during the Prohibition. They arrange to pay off their debts by driving to Mississippi to pick up some moonshine, but while there they are framed for a murder committed by a racist local sheriff, and get sentenced to life imprisonment. It’s one of those quaint, southern-chain-gang-style prisons: no walls, no white prisoners and seemingly only one staff member – just trustee prisoners armed with rifles, ready to shoot anyone who crosses the ‘gun line’ without permission. Very little happens. There are some borrowed scenes from Cool Hand Luke and Stir Crazy (the pair talking up their badness to give them some credibility with the other prisoners, a fight with a much bigger opponent in which Ray keeps coming back, all the prisoners in the dorm living vicariously through Ray’s fantasies about owning his own nightclub, a bloodhound-tracked escape after which they spend time in the box). Oh, and there is an incidental sub-plot involving a mute prisoner who impregnates the white superintendent’s daughter and gets a pardon to play baseball with the Negro Leagues, and Ray and Claude bicker, fall out and grow old. Surprisingly, the film dodges the issues of racism and the real pain of being locked up for your entire adult life for something you didn’t do – reducing anger and pain to grumpiness, resignation and banter.
The premise behind two odd-couple prisoners spending 65 years together in prison is an enticing one. The film is not.
Posted on May 16th, 2009 at 7:04 pm. Updated on August 21st, 2009 at 6:44 pm.
#427 in the Top 500