Universal/1999/109m/ANA 1.85

Life is one strange movie looking for its own meaning. Does Life mean to be a comedy? There are some funny bits, but they are few and far between and seldom come from any expected places. Life plays lightweight serious, in fact. Yet, the story develops virtually no pathos. Thereís some minor nastiness, a few scenes that owe a big debt to other chain gang movies like Cool Hand Luke, but despite some appealing performances, I kept asking myself ďWhatís Life all about.

The heavy load is carried by Murphy and Lawrence ©Universal

 When hustler Ray Gibson picks the pocket of middle class hopeful Claude Banks in a nightclub, they take a major detour in their lives. On a bootlegging trip to the South, they are framed for a murder and wind up the rest of the movie imprisoned on at Mississippi State Prison Southern chain gang. How they deal with their common fate is what Life is all about.
     It never seems to rain in Life. A strange sunshine pervades the movie, despite some brutality and several deaths. There is one remarkable sequence that could have been the centerpiece around which an entire movie could have been built. Gibson regales the other prisoners with his fantasy of Ray Gibsonís Boom Boom Room, a Harlem nightclub exiting only in his imagination and dreams. As the inmates listen to Gibsonís glib delivery of would-be delights, they are transported into this world. Deft editing mixes the prisoners in dismal uniforms listening to Gibson and in formal wear at the Boom Boom Room. Thereís more life packed into this all too short sequence than in any other aspect of the movie. Unfortunately, Life fails to move me past an occasional laugh and the boredom of everyday existence without any real drama.
     Ted Demme directs Eddie Murphy as Ray and Martin Lawrence as Claude with a slick lens and a minimum of story. The performances are really quite good, but like the film, they veer from drama to comedy like bumper cars at an amusement park. Eddie Murphy has done other incarnations of Ray Gibson before. Heís the hip city guy armed with a ready wisecrack and a determination that belies his situation. Martin Lawrence is totally unpredictable. You are never sure whether you are about to laugh or cringe. Nick Cassavetes is a strong presence as the prison boss man. 
     Colorful images are superbly detailed in Life on DVD.  The bright transfer has excellent contrast. Every lighting situation comes through with flying colors. Whether the gloss of the Boom Boom Room sequence or the night scenes in the prison bunks, this transfer sparkles. The images are seamless enough to make you forget you are watching a video. The music is outstanding in Life and the Dolby Digital 5:1sound does the DVD more justice than the Mississippi legal system affords Ray and Claude. Itís clean and airy with lots of snap and has excellent bass impact. Ted Demme delivers a blithely enjoyable audio commentary. It sounds like Demme is going to give an irreverent and hilarious commentary, however, he is simple and direct in describing the mechanics of Life and pointing out the landscape of actors on the periphery. Demme acknowledges that the makers of Life attempted to walk an ever-changing tightrope between comedy and drama. He makes frequent comparison to Hoganís Heroes as inspiration. He gives credit to Terry Gilliam and Dennis Potterís The Singing Detective for inspiring the stylistic treatment of the fine fantasy sequence. Demme points out where the actor takes off in improvisation and script.  There are some excellent






























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