[Screen It]


(1999) (Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Moderate Extreme Mild Extreme
Mild None Mild None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Mild Mild Minor Mild Extreme

Comedy: Two men -- serving life sentences for a murder they didn't commit -- try to deal with that fact and that each constantly serves as an irritant to the other as they spend more than sixty years together in prison.
As an old-timer prisoner, Willie Long (OBBA BABATUNDE) looks over the freshly dug graves of his former longtime friends, he recounts their story and we suddenly find ourselves in Harlem, 1932. There, Ray Gibson (EDDIE MURPHY) is a small-time hustler who owes money to Spanky Johnson (RICK JAMES), the owner of a popular speakeasy, that's frequented this night by Claude Banks (MARTIN LAWRENCE), a soon-to-be employed bank teller.

Sensing an easy target, Ray pickpockets Claude who's already been wiped clean by some debt collectors. As such, both men find themselves at the mercy of Spanky. Fortunately for them, he decides to agree upon Ray's proposal to pay off their debts by driving to Mississippi, picking up some moonshine, and returning it to him.

Although the straight-laced Claude isn't crazy about the idea, he reluctantly agrees and the two men -- who irritate each other -- drive south and pick up the booze. Unfortunately, they decide to visit a local bar where after a series of misfortunate events, they end up being charged for murdering a man, although the town's local law, Sheriff Pike (NED VAUGHN) is actually the culprit.

Thus, Ray and Claude find themselves sentenced to life in the Mississippi State prison. Run by Sgt. Dillard (NICK CASSAVETES) and his right-hand man, Hoppin' Bob (BRENT JENNINGS), the prisoners are forced into hard labor and are confined only by a gun line around the camp. If it's crossed, they'll immediately be shot, so they stick around and meet some of the other inmates including Jangle Leg (BERNIE MAC) and his effeminate underling, Biscuit (MIGUEL A. NUNEZ, JR.), as well as Radio (GUY TORRY), Poker Face (BARRY SHABAKA HENLEY) and the prison's resident hulk, Goldmouth (MICHAEL "BEAR" TALIFERRO).

As the years pass, Ray and Claude attempt to escape a few times, deal with the rampant racism of the deep South, and meet other characters such as Can't Get Right (BOKEEM WOODBINE), a mute baseball player and Dexter Wilkins (NED BEATTY), the camp's superintendent, all while continually getting on each other's nerves.

If they're fans of Murphy or Lawrence, it's a good bet they will.
For strong language and a shooting.
  • EDDIE MURPHY plays a profanity spewing, small-time con artist who ends up in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Faced with life there, he constantly tries to figure out how to get out while continually irritating Claude.
  • MARTIN LAWRENCE plays a straight-laced man whose gambling debts get him in trouble and through a series of events, lands him in prison with Ray. Along the way, he has sex with a prostitute despite being nearly engaged and cusses as well.
  • NED BEATTY plays a compassionate warden who ends up shooting a man to protect Ray and Claude.
  • NICK CASSAVETES plays the hard-nosed "bossman" who rules the prison camp with an iron thumb.
  • BRENT JENNINGS plays his rifle-toting, "yes man" assistant.
  • BOKEEM WOODBINE plays a mute ball player who secretly fathers a child with a local white lady.
  • MICHAEL "BEAR" TALIFERRO plays a behemoth of a man who fights with Ray in one scene.
  • MIGUEL A. NUNEZ, JR. plays an effeminate prisoner who realizes he can't return to the outside world as a gay/bi man.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    The prison movie has long been a favorite of Hollywood and its filmmakers. With the penal setting's own societal structure, rules, close quarters and many restrictions, such films have plenty of potential and can be both entertaining and informative if handled correctly.

    While most are dramatic -- think of Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke" and Clint Eastwood in "Escape From Alcatraz" -- some of have been funny -- such as "Stir Crazy" (Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor) and "The Longest Yard" (Burt Reynolds) -- while others are nothing short of outstanding -- such as "Papillon" (Steve McQueen) and the incomparable "The Shawshank Redemption" (Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman).

    The latest entry in the genre, "Life" tries to be a little bit of all three. Rather flat but functional as a drama and clearly not anywhere in the same league as "Shawshank," the film obviously works best as a comedy, although it's not always as funny as one might expect considering the presence of its two often uproarious co-stars.

    This isn't the first time comedians Eddie Murphy ("The Nutty Professor," "48 Hours") and Martin Lawrence ("Nothing to Lose," "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate") have appeared together (they did so in 1992's "Boomerang") and they work rather well as a comically bickering team. What's surprising is that both seemed to have partially toned down their often comedically volatile personas for their roles here.

    Unfortunately, those efforts to bring a little more depth to their characters are mostly hampered by the meandering script from Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (who collaborated on the little seen "Destiny Turns on the Radio"). While the plot lurches forward in somewhat jerky temporal increments (hitting the years 1932, '44, '72 and '97), it never really goes anywhere as far as developing a story. Instead, it serves mainly as a slight foundation upon which to build and deliver the film's jokes, but it's not until later in the picture that they finally start arriving with any regularity.

    That's not to say that the film is lacking in humor before that -- and there are some funny moments -- but simply that there's probably not as much as one might expect. Most of what's there, however, comes from Murphy and Lawrence's characters constantly bickering and irritating each other over the years. As such, they end up playing something of the imprisoned, African American version of "The Odd Couple" that appropriately later turns into "Grumpy Old Men" as their characters get older.

    Beyond that, however, Ramsey, Stone and director Ted Demme ("Monument Ave.," "Beautiful Girls") simply dredge up standard issue prison movie cliches -- as if there were a going out of business sale on them in the Alcatraz Island tour -- and have assembled them in nothing more than a pure episodic fashion.

    Not only do we see one of our "heroes" fight a hulking figure while a ring of prisoners encircle them, but there are also the escape attempts, the gay prisoners and the tough Southern "bossman" and even tougher physical labor. Of course some of the film's humor comes from such moments, which is okay for a comedy since that's how it's supposed to work, but there's so much of the same old material that I kept waiting for either Murphy or Lawrence to have to down several dozen hard-boiled eggs on a bet. They don't, and thus Paul Newman gets to keep that record.

    That said, and although such moments and the passing of time are the only things that really string the movie along, Demme manages to infuse enough old-fashioned charm into the proceedings to make them easily palatable. A scene where Ray and his fellow cons imagine they're living the life as free men in Ray's swanky speakeasy is clearly one of the film's highlights and there enough other moments -- although not as good as that one -- to easily make the film an audience favorite.

    Of course a great deal of that also rides on the shoulders of the leading men and their supporting cast and all do a decent job in delivering their performances. Murphy, no stranger to the period after starring in "Harlem Nights" delivers an agreeable, but not particularly exceptional or compelling take on his character. That latter attribute, however, can partially be applied to Lawrene's performance.

    Usually quite the volatile actor, Lawrence nicely plays the straight man part and delivers some fine moments, particularly later in the film when Rick Baker's always reliable old age makeup effect gives his character more character. Having already collaborated with Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" Baker's work is once again outstanding, entirely believable and another high point for the film.

    The rest of the performances are all decent, from Ned Beatty ("Cookie's Fortune") as a compassionate warden to Bokeem Woodbine ("The Big Hit") playing a mute baseball talent and Bernie Mac ("The Players Club") as a character whose name, Jangle Leg, perfectly describes his identifying behavior.

    Despite it's strung together plot and the fact that its "touching" moments, while partially effective -- such as when an aged Claude stares at the young people of the world and realizes that life has passed him by -- are too few and far between to give the film the "Shawshank" qualities it seems to occasionally be pursuing. Even so, the film does have enough crowd pleasing moments to insure a decent run at the box office.

    Although it's not as constantly and/or outrageously funny as one would expect, the film is certainly easy to sit through and has enough laughs and otherwise entertaining moments -- including the obligatory but funny out-takes during the end credits -- to earn a moderate passing grade. As such, we give "Life" a 5.5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated comedy. Profanity is extreme with more than 60 "f" and 40 "s" words being used during the film, along with a wide variety of other words and phrases. Violence rates as an extreme with several people being killed by others (two are shot, another is mortally wounded in an unseen encounter), with some of the results briefly being bloody.

    Some sexual encounters are suggested (between a character and a hooker -- and later his girlfriend -- and a woman and a prisoner) but we don't see any of that activity. Bad attitudes are present in the form of racist comments and a character who frames two innocent men for murder. Drinking (during Prohibition) and smoking also occur.

    Since this film will most likely draw the fans of both Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness.

  • Willie pours some liquor onto graves in a cemetery.
  • People drink in Spanky's club where we see Ray with a flask and Claude and his girlfriend having drinks.
  • Ray and Claude drive to Mississippi to pick up thirty-six cases of moonshine (we see the booze on the back of a truck). Later, some men pass around a bottle and drink from it.
  • People have drinks in a Mississippi club, including Claude and a hooker (who downs a large shot of bourbon in one gulp) and later Ray.
  • People have drinks in a speakeasy during a fantasy sequence.
  • A baseball scout drinks liquor from the bottle.
  • Some prisoners drink moonshine.
  • Pike drinks from a flask.
  • During a poker game, someone mentions betting with Percodan and Ray tries to persuade another prisoner not to snort an unseen substance from an amulet (not because it's a drug, but because it was probably smuggled into prison in a rather unsavory part of another person's body).
  • Pike's face is a little bloody after he's been sliced with a knife.
  • A man who ends up dying has blood on his face and some on his clothing (as does Claude who runs into him).
  • We hear a prisoner fart.
  • A doctor who's just delivered a baby comes out of a room with a little bit of blood on his apron.
  • We see a bloody wound in a man's chest after he's been shot.
  • Ray pickpockets Claude hoping to get money to pay off his gambling debts (we also learn that Claude owes people money as well).
  • Spanky threatens to torture/kill Ray and Claude for owing him money (and proceeds to have Claude dunked into water upside down).
  • Ray and Claude find rampant racism in the deep South, including a restaurant with the sign "No Coloreds Allowed" that won't serve them. Sheriff Pike and others are also racist, and various characters call black men "boy."
  • Several people cheat while playing poker with Ray.
  • Pike kills a man and then pins the blame on Ray and Claude.
  • The prisoners all recount why they're in prison (killing someone with a hammer, skinning someone, etc...), but we don't know if what they're saying is true or not.
  • Ray and Claude continually plot and occasionally try to escape.
  • Although not exactly played in that fashion, some viewers may find a scene where Ray and Claude escape from prison and are then hunted by the guards and their dogs as a little bit tense.
  • A disgruntled prisoner runs toward the "gun line" where we and the other prisoners know he'll be shot (and he is).
  • Guards shoot at Claude as he runs across the gun line for some homemade apple pie.
  • A prisoner hits a man in the face and then holds a gun on him. As Dexter aims his gun at the prisoner and another prison then struggles with the first over the gun, the other man grabs a pistol and prepares to shoot the prisoners. Dexter then shoots and kills that man.
  • A fire breaks out and Ray goes back into the burning building to look for Claude.
  • Shotgun/Rifles/Knife/Nightstick: Used by various people to threaten, wound, or kill others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Dillard tells the prisoners about the camp's "gun line," a boundary that if crossed, will cause the camp's guards -- all of whom carry weapons -- to shoot the offender.
  • Dexter and another man shoot at fowl with their rifles.
  • Phrases (Due to crowd noise and later slurring of dialogue by older characters, the following should be considered a minimum): "Nigger" and "Boy" (said by black characters, as well as whites used as a racist label), "Sh*thole," "Sh*tter" (toilet), "Bitch," "Cheap ass," "Shut up," "Sissies," "Retard," "Sorry ass," "Kiss my ass," "Ass sniffer" and "Kicking ass."
  • None.
  • A few scenes have just a bit of suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • Due to crowd noise and later slurring of dialogue by older characters, the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 63 "f" words (20 used with "mother" and 1 used sexually), 47 "s" words, 3 slang terms involving male genitals ("d*ck" and "Johnson"), 44 asses (1 used with "hole"), 21 hells, 20 damns, 6 S.O.B.'s, and 10 uses of "G-damn" and 1 use each of "Swear to God," "For Christ's sakes" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Due to crowd noise and later slurring of dialogue by older characters, more than the following (in terms of related dialogue) could be present.
  • A hooker who approaches Claude shows some cleavage. Although he's initially reluctant to part with his two dollars, Claude goes off and has sex with her (not seen, although we later see him finishing getting dressed and hear that he's now out of the two dollars).
  • Confronted by racist and corrupt Sheriff Pike, a poker player says, "I was going to leave, but your wife, she begged me to stay."
  • Noting that he was taken by some cheating gamblers and that Claude just visited a prostitute, Ray says that it looks like they "both got f*cked."
  • Some references are made to prisoner on prisoner sex and some of the characters are openly gay (and make their moves on Claude, but nothing ever comes of that). After Jangle Leg comes on to Claude and the latter asks Ray why he's called that, Ray tells him "You're gonna find out before me." Later, we see Biscuit dressed in drag during a fantasy sequence set in a speakeasy.
  • When Claude asks Dillard for some time alone with his girlfriend, the Sgt. tells him that conjugal visits are for married cons only. The girlfriend then pays Dillard some money (for an "instant" marriage) and she and Claude then go off to have sex (not seen, although we do see him behind her zipping up her dress afterwards).
  • A woman shows up nearby the prison and shows a bit of cleavage and draws the attention of Can't Get Right (and other prisoners who ogle her). Later, we learn that they had at least one liaison since she gives birth to his son.
  • A hooker shows some cleavage.
  • Various minor or miscellaneous characters smoke (cigarettes & cigars) in several scenes.
  • A man chews tobacco.
  • A prisoner nonchalantly reacts to hearing that many people in his family have died (all played for laughs).
  • Ray briefly states that his father hung himself and we later her that his mother died while he was in prison (but these are only briefly talked about and long after the fact).
  • The racism that was (and somewhat still is) rampant in the deep South.
  • Life as a prisoner over the years.
  • Some debt collectors violently grab Claude and take him into a bathroom stall to get his money.
  • Spanky's men tie up Claude and then dunk him headfirst into a body of water for owing Spanky money.
  • A woman at a restaurant aims a shotgun at Ray and Claude to make them leave.
  • Sheriff Pike hits a man with his nightstick for talking back to him, causing this man to slice Pike's face with a knife. Later, we see this man who's bloody and ends up dying in front of Ray and Claude.
  • Some locals hold their guns on Ray and Claude thinking they've just killed a man.
  • In prison, Dillard punches Ray in the gut.
  • The prisoners all recount why they're in prison (killing someone with a hammer, skinning someone, etc...), but we don't know if what they're saying is true or not.
  • Ray and the huge Goldmouth get into a prison yard brawl with the rest of the prisoners forming a ring around them. As such Goldmouth punches Ray who returns the punch (but to no apparent effect). Goldmouth then squeezes Ray in a bear hug, Ray punches him again and the big man then picks up Ray and throws him to the ground. After the fight is called off and Goldmouth carries Ray off, he elbows him in the face.
  • Claude punches Ray in the face and the two then get into a scuffle that then also involves Hoppin' Bob, but ends when Dillard fires a warning shot into the air.
  • Having finally caught Ray and Claude after a prison break, Dillard hits both of them with his rifle.
  • A disgruntled prisoner runs toward the "gun line" and is shot dead by a guard.
  • A crop duster crashes off in the distance and we see a huge fireball rise into the sky (but the pilot survives).
  • Some historical stock footage briefly shows people hitting others.
  • Guards shoot at Claude as he runs across the gun line for some homemade apple pie.
  • A prisoner hits a man in the face and then holds a gun on him. As Dexter aims his gun at the prisoner and another prison then struggles with the first over the gun, the other man grabs a pistol and prepares to shoot the prisoners. Dexter then shoots and kills that man.

  • Reviewed April 14, 1999 / Posted April 16, 1999

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood] [Frozen 2] [Knives Out] [Queen & Slim] [21 Bridges]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2019 Screen It, Inc.