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Movie Review

Most of this buddy comedy chronicles the up-and-down relationship between Ray and Claude, two black men whose fateful 1936 introduction in a New York City nightclub ignites a string of events that impacts their lives forever. On that pivotal eve, a budding banker and unlucky gambler (Claude) gets shaken down by hoods out to collect the money he owes on bad bets. Moments later, a petty hustler with terrible timing (Ray), lifts Claude's empty wallet, hoping to use the contents to pay off a hefty debt to the nightclub's powerful owner. When Ray comes up empty and Claude can't pay his ample dinner tab, both men are carted off and threatened with bodily harm. In an act of desperation, Ray offers their services as bootleggers to settle the score and they head to Mississippi to pick up a shipment of moonshine. When the guys go south, so do their circumstances. Ray and Claude get framed for murder by a racist sheriff and sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Mississippi state prison system. They spend the next 60 years developing a love-hate relationship and sniping obscenities at each other.

Positive Elements: Claude's girlfriend wants a commitment from him so she can start a family. Ray intervenes on Claude's behalf several times (he save him from drowning, sticks up for him when another inmate demands his food and goes into a burning building after him). Claude risks his own chances at freedom by attempting to free Ray from a barbed-wire fence. When a white warden's daughter gives birth to a black baby, several of the men claim to be the father in an attempt to protect the real dad from the warden's wrath. A scene in a diner reveals the terrible injustices of racism that could be found in America a half-century ago.

Spiritual Content: Christian men and women host a Sunday morning church service for the prisoners. Defending his dream of someday owning his own club (Ray's Boom Boom Room), Ray incorrectly quotes the Bible as stating, "As a man thinketh so shall he get it."

Sexual Content: Claude hires a two-dollar hooker. When his girlfriend visits him in prison, he takes advantage of this "conjugal visit" even though they aren't married. Some sexual references mar the dialogue. There are several allusions to sodomy in the penitentiary, and two inmates are apparently a "couple."

Violent Content: A dead card shark's bloodied body is shown. Several fistfights, men struck with the butts of guns, etc. A convict is shot dead by a guard while running into forbidden territory. When an evil authority figure pulls a gun, he is blown away at close range in an act of "self-defense." The prisoners brag about violent crimes ranging from skinning someone to murdering Santa Claus. To impress their peers, Ray and Claude claim to be notorious serial killers.

Drug and Alcohol Content: The old man retelling this tale is shown sipping moonshine. Ray and Claude break prohibition laws by offering to shuttle numerous cases of illegal moonshine. When a woman at a bar quickly polishes off a glass of bourbon, Claude chokes one down, too. The inmates host a party and drink alcohol. A 1990s convict is tempted to snort cocaine that's been smuggled in.

Crude or Profane Language: Nonstop swearing spoils an otherwise clever premise. Literally dozens upon dozens of profane and obscene expressions fly from the screen. The f-word could be mistaken for punctuation the way Murphy and Lawrence casually toss it back and forth. In one scene, Ray learns that a woman conspired to cheat him in a poker game and goes out looking for her. When Claude asks which woman, Ray responds, "Whatever b--ch I start chokin'!" Racial slurs appear frequently as well.

Other Negative Elements: Ray gambles at poker. Flatulence played for laughs. A disturbed inmate commits suicide.

Summary: The idea of throwing these two talented comedians into a decades-long, on-again/off-again friendship under extremely stressful circumstances could have produced a brilliant buddy flick. As it stands, Life plays down to audience's already gutter-level expectations of Murphy and Lawrence. Their characters generate some sympathy because they've been disrespected for their race, taken advantage of and unjustly imprisoned for murder. But that doesn't make Ray and Claude good men. Anyone who finds gambling, theft, bootlegging, soliciting prostitution and rampant obscenities reprehensible will, quite frankly, be glad they're off the streets.

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Eddie Murphy as Rayford (Ray) Gibson; Martin Lawrence as Claude Banks; Bernie Mac as Jangle Leg; Obba Babatundé as Willie Long; Nick Cassavetes as Sergeant Dillard


Ted Demme ( )


Universal Pictures



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Bob Smithouser

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