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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author
Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence star in a comedy that is desperate to pull laughs from a concept that I didn't find terribly funny.

Murphy is Ray, a small-time crook and con artist and Lawrence is Claude, a generally good guy who is preparing to start a new life with a new job as a bank teller. The story starts in the 1930's as the two men bump into each other in a New York nightclub. They think nothing much of the original meeting, but by the end of the night they find themselves both facing having to pay back a debt to a local gangster(Rick James). To pay back the debt, the two drive down to Mississipi to pick up some alcohol to take back to the clubs of New York City. When a local small time criminal turns up murdered, Ray and Claude are framed for the crime and find themselves facing "life"(hence the title) in jail.

The script of the film seems to do battle against the tone that the filmmakers are trying to accomplish, though. I felt that the film was trying to blend comedy and drama into a generally heart-warming "serious" film, but once the two men find themselves in jail for a while, the script seems to become more about showcasing the two comics in sort of a dual stand up performance in various "episodes": the criminals put together a baseball team, Ray tells all of the other cellmates about his dream of opening a nightclub. The script also occasionally realizes that jail isn't this hilarious and throws a dramatic scene in every so often. A pattern begins to form: comedic episode, dramatic scene, comedic episode, dramatic scene. I was very happy to see that the film was trying for something more than average, but the film generally doesn't work at all as a drama because there really aren't any supporting characters that rise above the level of stereotypes and also, we don't even get fully-written main characters. There are lines alone that are certainly funny here, but we don't really learn anything about the characters themselves enough to really care terribly much about them.

It's definitely not the fault of the performers here. Lawrence and Murphy are at their best here, trying hard to make each joke work. They try to make the jokes work, but they don't do anything for the plot. Throughout, the film is happy to let Murphy and Lawrence just stand there and argue with each other in very R-rated dialogue, or try to escape in new ways. I found the begining funny and enjoyed the end of the film, where the two find themselves still arguing at age 90(thanks to the makeup work of Rick Baker), but the middle of the film becomes increasingly predictable and therefore, slow. The film is funny for moments here and there, but it simply can't decide what it wants to be: it tries to be both comedy and drama and doesn't try to mix the two together, it just lets the seperate elements stand alone by themselves and as such, the shifts in tone seem jarring and slow down the film. The profane dialogue also begins to grow tiresome after a while.

Above it all, I really think the general plot keeps the film from being really funny. I just generally don't find the story of two completely innocent people spending their entire lives in jail very funny. Just a personal opinion, I guess.

Occasionally, I found "Life" funny, but these funny moments weren't part of the film as a whole: lines here and there, a scene or two. All in all, it's a fairly good try, but I don't recommend watching this "Life".


VIDEO: Universal has provided a very solid special anamorphic transfer for "Life" in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are pleasantly warm, rich and very well-saturated. Images are consistently sharp, smooth and clear, and even in some of the film's darker scenes, a very nice amount of detail is apparent.

Occasionally, I caught an instance or two of slight shimmering, but there really isn't any other problems here. Universal has done a really nice job with the image quality here, the picture is very well defined and the image does justice to the cinematography work of Geoffrey Simpson("Shine"). The layer change is fairly noticable at about 1:01:30.

SOUND: "Life" is certainly a lively film in the audio department and although it's not a film that's going to deliver explosions, the R&B score sounds excellent and even quite impressive, with nice bass and crystal clarity.All of the sounds of the environment are really nicely captured, especially during a lot of the outdoor sequences(birds chirping, etc.). Dialogue is especially important on a film like this and on "Life", the dialogue is captured quite well, providing us a clear listen to the lines and jokes of the picture. Again, there's not too much action going on in "Life", but the score really does sound very good.

MENUS: Enjoyable animated main menus where .

EXTRAS:: Although this isn't noted as one of Universal's "Collector's Edition" series, it still offers quite a bit in the way of extras:

Outtakes: Priceless- just absolutely hilarious. These are about 6 minutes of Murphy and Lawrence messing up lines and making each other laugh. There's been quite a few discs that have offered outtakes recently like Analyze This and Ed TV, but I think the set that's offered here is the funniest.

Director's Cuts: Not a terribly interesting addition, but nice to have anyways: director Ted Demme introduces a couple of scenes in their entire form as how he originally intended them, with some extra footage contained.

Commentary: Ted Demme is really very funny on this commentary, with some hilarious comments on what happened during the filmmaking as well as some general comments about filmmaking that are not only funny, but really witty as well. What I think that most people will really like about this commentary is how enthusiastic that Demme is about speaking here. It certainly always makes listening to a track like this pleasant when the person talking sounds as if they have an interest in providing you with the information.

Demme mainly talks about what it was like to work with the various actors and the background behind many of the people on set. Sometimes Demme does get a little bit dull when he goes on and on about every single person who acts in the film(something that the Farrelly Brothers have done for both their commentaries for There's Something About Mary and Kingpin. Demme also talks a bit about how the two stars worked on the set, spending a lot of time making each other laugh. Demme also leads us through a lot of the production info, such as where a lot of the scenes were filmed. The only problem here is that the viewer can not change between the audio commentary to the actual film with the remote. That is sooooooo annoying, and something that you run into on any Universal special edition.

Spotlight On Location: This edition of Universal's "Spotlight On Location" is definitely a little longer than their usual featurette. There are plenty of interviews with the cast and crew(even producer Brian Grazer and his freaky hairstyle). We generally get the perspective of director Demme as well as the film's stars about the ideas behind the picture and the characters they play. It's a longer featurette, but is it more in-depth? Not really, as most of it seems to be the actors and directors talking about how wonderful it was to work with each other. It finally begins to get more interesting when we get a look at the film's makeup effects that were done by Rick Baker. All in all, "A Look At Life" is an occasionally interesting featurette, but it's not one of the more memorable documentaries I've watched lately.

Also:"Music Highlights" from the movie, the trailer(and trailers for "Mystery Men" and "For Love Of The Game"), music video and cast/crew/production notes.
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