Once upon a time in America, life in prison meant precisely that. There was no early parole, no time off for good behavior. If you were sentenced to life, you could pretty much count on dying a prisoner in some godforsaken camp, farm or prison. Eddie Murphy is a small-time crook in Prohibition-era New York trying to get out of debt to a Harlem mobster. He sets up a scheme of driving some Mississippi moonshine to the mobster's speakeasy in New York. He ropes in as his driver Martin Lawrence, a bank teller who has also fallen afoul of the mobster because of an unpaid gambling debt.
Murphy's character's weak nature gets the better of him and after receiving the liquor shipment, he decides to do some gambling in a rural club. He gets cheated by a local card sharp who later mouths off to the town sheriff, who murders him. Murphy and Lawrence have the misfortune of discovering the body, and being seen with it. They get, you guessed it, life in prison. The two, initially antagonistic to one another, are forced to rely upon each other in the brutal work camp to which they are sentenced. Time passes and they dream of the freedom it seems will be denied them for a crime of which they aren't guilty.
There are a lot of moving moments in "Life" and with Murphy and Lawrence, even more funny ones. There is social commentary in the form of how black men are treated in the South, but it isn't strongly told or terribly compelling. Other movies explore that subject in greater depth and with greater insight. The problem with "Life" is that the filmmakers aren't sure whether they wanted to make a comedy, an examination of prison life in the Deep South of, say, 50 years ago, or a political/social commentary on the shaft given African Americans. They decide to do all these things, and in fact their reach exceeds their grasp.
"Life" really doesn't give you any new insights into anything. It's mainly an excuse to pair two of the brightest comic minds in America. Watching the two at work individually is fascinating, but Lawrence and Murphy don't generate enough chemistry to hold any interest as a team.