Funny as well as poignant, this 1999 comedy stars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as New York bootleggers sentenced to life in a Mississippi prison after being framed for murder in 1932. This might be better than anything either comedian has done before; at least it made me laugh more. A movie about black men in prison comes dangerously close to being a movie about contemporary reality, and part of what I like about Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone’s episodic screenplay and Ted Demme’s mainly self-effacing direction is how many real-life issues it manages to broach without ever threatening to become pompous. Character humor growing out of adversity has a long and venerable tradition, and if this in part suggests a street-smart Forrest Gump, it also recalls the euphoric gusto of W.C. Handy’s song Long Gone as performed by Louis Armstrong. As is expected by now in a Murphy movie, the makeup effects (handled by the ace Rick Baker) are elaborate, but little of this is asked to replace performance; Murphy and Lawrence and the secondary cast, which includes Obba Babatunde, Bokeem Woodbine, Ned Beatty, and R. Lee Ermey, all do a fine job. (JR)

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