Yes, this movie has plenty of funny moments, but there is a very real and sometimes rather touching story that takes precedence over everything that happens. You can't get through the most serious of situations without the palliative of laughter now and again, and Life actually does tell a serious story. Eddie Murphy proves once again that he is a great actor, and Martin Lawrence was surprisingly good as the more serious of two men sentenced to life in prison for a murder they didn't commit. One night in 1932, fate brought Rayford Gibson (Murphy), a smooth-talking hustler with big dreams, and Claude Banks (Lawrence) a respectable fellow about to start a good job, together in a New York nightclub. For entirely different reasons, both guys have to face the displeasure of the club owner's wrath; and so it is that Gibson and Banks end up going on a bootlegging run to Mississippi. One dead man later, and both men are sentenced to life in prison for murder. Since Banks blames Gibson for getting him into all this mess, there relationship varies in quality as the years go by, but gradually a real friendship develops between them. They try to escape several times but end up spending basically their whole lives in prison. Along the way, we meet with several sub-plots involving some of their fellow inmates, but the movie never strays far from the lives of Gibson and Banks. The passage of time is marked by clips of historical events, and some excellent makeup works makes both men look old and worn out as they advance into their senior years.
This is not a prison story of hopelessness, however. While no pardon ever comes their way, justice has a way of willing out eventually, and the final ten minutes of the film are just terrific. Since the story does take place in Mississippi in 1932 and beyond, race plays a major part in the film, but it does not define the movie by any means. There are a number of funny scenes, especially those involving pie and cornbread, and Eddie Murphy will definitely make you laugh - Martin Lawrence sort of plays the heavy here to Murphy's periodic antics. Some familiar faces pop up in the movie: Rick James plays the New York club owner, Bernie Mac has a relatively minor role, and Heavy D plays a small but important part. Wyclef Jean contributes an original score for the film. The whole cast is excellent, and a very good script keeps the film on pace and lively.
This isn't Stir Crazy; there are plenty of laughs, but I wouldn't call this a comedy - Life the movie is funny in the way life itself can sometimes be - laughter can get us through the hard times, but it doesn't hide the fact that the hard times are there. This movie really deserves more attention than it has received; with its serious underlying quality, it ranks among Eddie Murphy's most impressive films.