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Life (1999 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ted Demme
Produced by Brian Grazer
Eddie Murphy
Written by Robert Ramsey
Matthew Stone
Story by Eddie Murphy
Starring Eddie Murphy
Martin Lawrence
Obba Babatundé
Ned Beatty
Bernie Mac
Miguel A. Nuñez
Clarence Williams III
Bokeem Woodbine
Music by R. Kelly
Wyclef Jean
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Edited by Jeffrey Wolf
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • April 16, 1999 (1999-04-16)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million
Box office $75,576,029

Life is a 1999 American comedy-drama film written by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone and directed by Ted Demme. The film stars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. The supporting cast includes Obba Babatundé, Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Bokeem Woodbine, Guy Torry and Barry Shabaka Henley. The film's format is a story being told by an elderly inmate about two of his friends, who are both wrongly convicted of murder and given a life sentence in prison. The film was the last R rated role to date for Eddie Murphy who has stuck mainly to family friendly films for the past 16 years of his career.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Box office 3
  • Reception 4
  • Location 5
  • Soundtrack 6
  • Awards and nominations 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Elderly inmate, Willie Long (Obba Babatundé) attends the burial of two friends who recently perished in an infirmary fire in a Mississippi prison. He begins telling the two young inmates digging the graves (Heavy D and Bönz Malone) his friends' life story.

Ray Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) are two New Yorkers in 1932 from two different worlds. Ray is a small-time hustler and petty thief, and Claude, an honest, yet often selfish minded man, has just been accepted for a job as a bank teller at First Federal Of Manhattan. They are both at a club called Spanky's when Ray picks Claude as his mark to pick-pocket. Later they both end up in the bad graces of the club's owner Spanky (Rick James). Ray is in trouble for running numbers on Spanky's territory. Claude is in trouble because he does not have any money to pay for the dinner he just ate at Spanky's club since he was jacked by two men to whom he owes money. Ray arranges for himself and Claude to do some boot-legging to pay off their debt.

They head down south from New York in order to buy a carload of Mississippi 'hooch' (alcohol). Unfortunately, before they can get back to New York, a man named Winston Hancock (Clarence Williams III), who swindles Ray in a card game, is murdered outside of a juke joint by the town's white sheriff, Warren Pike (Ned Vaughn). As Ray and Claude are walking outside talking about what happened in the club, Hancock is thrown onto Claude by a pulley of some sort. Some rednecks come up on them and realize Hancock is dead. They take Ray and Claude to the jail at gunpoint. A short time later, they go to trial, are convicted, and sentenced to life.

True to the time period and the south, Ray and Claude are sent to an infamous prison camp called 'Camp 8' (now Mississippi State Penitentiary) for murder to perform hard labor. They spend the next 65 years trying to escape from prison, while making new friends: Biscuit (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), Jangle Leg (Bernie Mac), Radio (Guy Torry), Goldmouth (Michael Taliferro), Cookie (Anthony Anderson) and Pokerface (Barry Shabaka Henley), dodging the guards Sergeant Dillard (Nick Cassavetes) and Hoppin' Bob (Brent Jennings) as well as having their own friendship grow. Each inmate has his own different personality. Though Sgt. Dillard and Hoppin' Bob are strict on them, they both have friendly "soft spots" for all of their inmates. Ray gets into a jam while defending Claude over a piece of cornbread that Goldmouth demands but Claude is being polite (unaware that he is taking advantage of him). Goldmouth gets angry when Ray keeps running his mouth and says that he'll take his instead of Claude's. Ray threatens that if he takes his cornbread it will be "consequences and repercussions" (which leads to a fight and Goldmouth wins). After the fight, Ray and Goldmouth become friends.

Sometime later, one night, Ray explains his dream of having his own nightclub called "The Boom Boom Room". A dream sequence features Biscuit imagining himself as a female singer, Jangle Leg and Radio are in the band, Cookie is a hungry restaurant patron, Pokerface is a lucky gambler, Goldmouth is the guard at the door and Claude is a mistreated waiter. The sequence ends with Hoppin' Bob as a cop who demands everyone to leave the club (but it was actually Hoppin' Bob interrupting by telling the inmates to go to bed).

At first Claude tries to get out by himself legally by telling his girlfriend Daisy (Sanaa Lathan) to ask his attorney cousin Melvin to file an appeal on his behalf. Later, Claude gets a letter from Melvin and the news is not good. The appeal was denied and whats more, Daisy has left Claude for Melvin and are now engaged to be married (Daisy was clearly put off by Claude's selfishness since he was planning to abandon Ray). With any chance of getting out legally gone, Claude attempts to make be partners with Ray, who has a plan of getting out. Ray and Claude make several attempts to escape the prison. Early in their incarceration, they run away in the middle of the night, getting as far as Tallahatchie before being captured; they are sentenced to a week in solitary confinement.

Around 1944, 12 years later, they meet a mute inmate who gets nicknamed 'Can't-Get-Right' (Bokeem Woodbine) and who is a talented baseball player. He catches the eye of a Negro League scout who states that he can get him out of prison if will play baseball. Ray and Claude, seeing a shot at freedom, tell the scout to put a word in for them as well (as they relate to 'Can't-Get-Right' in that they can coax him best to play) but to no avail. During a dance social, a prisoner named Biscuit confides to Ray that he is going to be released; however, Biscuit was afraid to return to his family, being a homosexual man, so he commits suicide by deliberately running across the "firing line", getting himself shot. Jangle Leg is allowed to cross the line to retrieve his partner's body. After 'Can't-Get-Right' is released to play baseball for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Ray devises an escape but Claude wants no part of it. Claude is upset with the fact that 'Can't-Get-Right' was released without them, and this leads to an argument that results in Ray and Claude going their separate ways. Ray and Claude don't speak to one another. As the years went by, each and every one of Claude and Ray's friends aged and passed on (including co-warden Hoppin' Bob), leaving them with their only surviving friend Willie.

28 years later, in 1972, after a number of events occurring including the end of World War II, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, the John F. Kennedy assassination, the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, the Malcolm X assassination, the The African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Apollo 11 moon landings, and Muhammad Ali's quote. Ray and Claude are now elderly, aged 65 years old. Willie is too old and weak to walk and he is now in a wheelchair. Sgt. Dillard still runs the camp, still annoying Ray and Claude. One day, Sgt Dillard informs Ray and Claude that they are transferred to live and work at Superintendent Dexter Wilkins' (Ned Beatty) mansion. Claude forms a friendship with Wilkins, and is entrusted to drive and pick up the new superintendent, who is none other than Sheriff Warren Pike (R. Lee Ermey), the man who framed them 40 years earlier.

While on a hunt, Ray confronts Pike about the murder after Pike opens Ray's father's watch, playing a tune that Ray recognized, leading to a standoff in which the sheriff admits to framing Ray and Claude. Pike attempts to kill both Ray and Claude, but is shot and killed by Wilkins, who has realized that Ray and Claude were framed and are indeed innocent. Wilkins covers up the killing by saying that he accidentally shot Pike while hunting. He tells Ray and Claude that he intends to write pardon papers for the two, but dies of a heart attack in his bathroom before he can do so.

In 1997 (present day), Ray and Claude are now very elderly, aged 90 years, and living in the prison's infirmary. Claude tells Ray of yet another plan he has devised, but Ray is skeptical, having accepted his fate of dying in prison. On that same night, the infirmary catches fire and everyone makes it out safely except for Ray and Claude.

Willie concludes the tale by outlining Claude’s plan. The two bodies being buried were taken from the morgue; Ray and Claude had planned to escape during the fire by hiding on the departing fire trucks. When the workers ask why the plan didn't work, Willie tells them that he "never said it didn't work". Willie wheels away, laughing, as the inmates realize that the bodies they buried are not Ray and Claude.

Ray and Claude are back in New York, at a New York Yankees baseball game. The film concludes by revealing that the bad-luck buddies are again on good terms, living together in Harlem.


Box office

Life was released on April 13, 1999 in North America. The film grossed $73,345,029 worldwide against an $80 million budget, making it a financial disappointment.[1][2]


The film has received mixed reviews and currently has a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[3]


Even though Life was set in Mississippi, Life was filmed in California;[4] filming locations include Courtland, CA, Locke, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Downey, CA, and Sacramento, CA. Parts of the film were shot at a Rockwell Defense Plant in California.


A soundtrack containing hip hop and R&B music was released on March 16, 1999 on Rock Land/Interscope Records. It peaked at 10 on the Billboard 200 and 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and was certified platinum with over 1 million copies sold on June 18, 1999.

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Award
  • NAACP Image Award
    • nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture (2000)
  • BMI Film & TV Awards
    • (won) for Most Performed Song from a Film (2000)
  • Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
    • nominated with Eddie Murphy for Favorite Comedy Team (2000) for the movie
    • nominated for Favorite Song from a Movie (Fortunate)


  1. ^ "'"Eddie Murphy's Charmed 'Life.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Life (1999)". Retrieved November 12, 2010. 
  4. ^ Cheseborough, Steve, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues. University Press of Mississippi, 2004. 96. Retrieved from Google Books on September 29, 2010. ISBN 1-57806-650-6, ISBN 978-1-57806-650-6.

External links

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