Monday, March 26, 2012


Life; tragicomedy, USA, 1999; D: Ted Demme, S: Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Obba Babatundé, Nick Cassavetes, Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson

New York during the time of Prohibition. In order to repay their debts to criminal Spanky, African-Americans Ray and Claude travel to the South to smuggle alcohol for him. However, it all goes wrong when Ray decides to stay for a while to earn some money on the cards. Namely, Warren Pike, a local Sheriff, kills a man, Hancock, and later "fills the niche" by putting the blame on Ray and Claude when they accidentally stumble upon the corpse. The two are sentenced to a life in prison. After 40 rough years in a prison camp, Ray and Claude meet Sheriff Pike again and manage to trick him into telling about his frame-up in front of the Superintendent Dexter. Unfortunately, Dexter dies from a heart attack before he can contact anyone. A decade later, 90-year old Ray and Claude escape during the fire and, in a small moment of luck, go to a baseball game.

In 1999 Eddie Murphy finally decided to take a chance and accept a more risky project, starring in tragicomedy "Life", but that sappy-silly version of "The Shawshank Redemption" did not manage to get the best out of him - nor from anyone else involved in the film, for that matter. The main plot, revolving around an incredible, 50 year long period of bad luck for the two innocent men sent to jail, is bitter and brave, but unfortunately sinks on two levels: when it's dramatic, it's too melodramatic, and when it's humorous, it just manages to be either silly, forced or spasmodic. For instance, as a punishment, Claude is forced to stand and balance on bottles of beer for a whole day, while the prison guard gives his gun to Ray and tells him: "If you shoot him right now, I will let you out of this prison this instance!", upon which Ray replies with: "That's not such a good idea. I might just shoot you." "Wrong answer!", says the prison guard. Cue to the next scene showing Claude balancing on bottles of beer together with Ray. Unfortunately, most of the movie revolves around these convulsive solutions. When its not a comedy, the story is too sentimental (for instance, in blatant jabs against racism). The director did not manage to take such blatant-transparent storyline of anxiety and make it appear more sophisticated than it is, though a few jokes do work here and there (for instance, when Ray and Claude observe a deceased inmate getting taken away to the morgue and joke how he got an "early release"). Ironically, some of the best jokes are found in the outtakes during the closing credits ("What's wrong kid? Moustache too big for you?").



J Luis Rivera said...

I think it was such a great idea that somehow got wasted.

Marin Mandir said...

Yeah, too bad: one of the few times that Eddie Murphy (almost) tried to take on a more dramatic role, but it ended up uneven.

Mario500 said...

Claude and Ray were watching a baseball game, not a football game.

Marin Mandir said...