Life

Two sharp-dressed, northern black men traveling through the violently segregated South of 1932 are arrested by a bigoted white sheriff, falsely accused of murder and sentenced to life in the state prison. A racially charged social drama? Heck no — it's an Eddie Murphy comedy. Ray (Murphy), a motor-mouthed, would-be Harlem player, and Claude (Martin...read more

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  • Life Tuesday Nov 19th, 6:10pm

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Two sharp-dressed, northern black men traveling through the violently segregated South of 1932 are arrested by a bigoted white sheriff, falsely accused of murder and sentenced to life in the state prison. A racially charged social drama? Heck no &#151 it's an Eddie

Murphy comedy. Ray (Murphy), a motor-mouthed, would-be Harlem player, and Claude (Martin Lawrence), a mild-mannered bank teller, travel down to rural Mississippi to clear their debt to a dangerous Harlem club owner by driving a truckload of bootleg liquor back to New York. But no sooner do they

make the pickup than Ray loses all their money to a cardsharp named Winston Hancock (Clarence Williams III), whose freshly murdered corpse the pair literally stumble upon minutes later in a dark alley. Ray and Claude are arrested by the town's nasty sheriff (Ned Vaughn), and in the time it takes

for an all-white jury to say "guilty," they've traded in their suits for stripes and are sent to spend the rest of their lives doing hard labor in the Mississippi State Prison. It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate setting for a buddy comedy than the notorious Southern prison system of the

'30s. But Murphy (who has a couple of great, apparently improvised moments) and an uncharacteristically restrained Lawrence are a solid team, and Ted Demme's sympathetic direction allows them to draw as much humor out of the dismal situation as they can. And from the look of things, prison doesn't

seem to be such a bad place after all: There's plenty of time for baseball and barbecues, and while such minor infractions as attempted escapes and impregnating the lieutenant's lily-white daughter are certainly frowned upon, they go pretty much unpunished. The overall effect of Demme's film is a

little like experiencing Nazi prison camps through reruns of Hogan's Heroes, right down to the few bona fide laughs.

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