Life

on April 16, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
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   Make-up artist Rick Baker is a genius. He ages Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, by stages, into entirely convincing nonagenarians. But as they are sitting there acting old, all you do is marvel at the amazing transformations or maybe muse about how much Eddie sounds like Cosby. It is just too distracting. And that's a pity, because at its center "Life" is a well-written, beautifully cast and very funny buddy movie which perfectly matches the talents of its two leads. They play a couple of New Yorkers hustlers who get framed for murder in Mississippi and are sentenced to spend their whole lives behind bars. The reason why they were not executed a reason hinted at but never fully explained in the film is that they became part of the state's huge free labor force. Black inmates farmed, built roads and were even hired out to work on plantations; basically slavery survived courtesy of the judicial system.
   Ray (Murphy) and Claude (Martin) bicker like an old married couple, make sporadic attempts to escape and interact with the other inmates in some great comic moments. The scene in which the superintendent lines up the convicts in an attempt to identify the father of his white daughter's baby is a gem. And don't make a run for the exit as the credits start to roll. One of the outtakes has Murphy answering his ringing cell phone. "I know it's the 1930s, but I got the first one," he ad-libs.
   But as the two convicts age the film takes them from their 20s to their 90s those pesky prosthetics get in the way. Murphy has done it all before in movies like "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor." He should now take a pledge to just say no to disguises except, of course, when he is driving his Jeep down Santa Monica Boulevard at two in the morning. Starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Directed by Ted Demme. Written by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone. Produced by Brian Grazer and Eddie Murphy. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated R for strong language and a shooting. Running time: 108 min
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