Life (1999 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byTed Demme
Written byRobert Ramsey
Matthew Stone
Produced byBrian Grazer
Eddie Murphy
CinematographyGeoffrey Simpson
Edited byJeffrey Wolf
Music byR. Kelly
Wyclef Jean
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 16, 1999 (1999-04-16)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[1]
Box office$73.4 million[1]

Life is a 1999 American buddy comedy-drama film directed by Ted Demme. The film stars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. It is the second film featuring Murphy and Lawrence together, the first being Boomerang, in 1992. The supporting cast includes Ned Beatty, R. Lee Ermey, Obba Babatundé, Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Bokeem Woodbine, Guy Torry, Michael Taliferro and Barry Shabaka Henley. The film is framed as a story being told by an elderly inmate about two of his friends, Ray (Murphy) and Claude (Lawrence), who are both wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup at the 72nd Academy Awards. Life failed to meet the studio's expectations at the box office, and received mixed reactions from critics. The film later found a strong cult following among Murphy and Lawrence’s fans, establishing Life as a cult classic.[2][3][4][5][6]


In 1997, at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, elderly convict Willie Long tells two inmates his friends' life story at their burial. Ray Gibson and Claude Banks, New Yorkers from different worlds, meet at a club called Spanky's in 1932. Ray, a small-time thief, picks Claude as a mark. Ray convinces club-owner Spanky to let him and Claude pay off their debt via boot-legging. Traveling south to buy Mississippi "hooch", they pay for the booze and enter a local bar. Ray loses his father's prized pocketwatch to card hustler Winston Hancock. Outside, racist sheriff Warren Pike kills Hancock, framing Ray and Claude.

Ray and Claude are given life sentences, with hard labor at an infamous prison camp called Camp 8. They immediately run afoul of the guards, Sergeant Dillard and Hoppin' Bob, and also meet fellow inmates Jangle Leg (who makes a pass at Claude), Willie Long, Biscuit (another homosexual inmate, involved with Jangle Leg), Radio, Goldmouth (a bully who picks a fight with Ray, but befriends him afterward), Cookie the chef, and Pokerface. Claude's cousin, an attorney, unsuccessfully appeals his conviction and seduces his girlfriend (who’s grown tired of Claude’s selfishness). With no chance at freedom, Claude and Ray break out, getting as far as Tallahatchie before being captured.

In 1944, twelve years later, Claude and Ray meet young, mute inmate "Can't-Get-Right", a talented baseball player who is sighted by a Negro league scout who offers a pardon to play. Sensing an opportunity for freedom, Ray and Claude introduce themselves as his handlers. Despite his talent, Can't-Get-Right is often distracted by Mae Rose, the daughter of Camp 8's superintendent Abernathy. After Mae Rose gives birth to a biracial boy, Abernathy furiously demands to know who is the father. Various inmates simultaneously claim to be the father, embarrassing Abernathy by indicating that she had slept with all of them, which results in all present laughing at Abernathy and him quitting on the spot and leaving the prison.

During a dance social, Biscuit confides to Ray that he is due for release but fears returning to his family because of his homosexuality. Despite Ray’s sincere encouragement to resume life on the outside, Biscuit instead commits suicide by crossing the gun line, much to the shock and heartache of the other inmates. Can't-Get-Right is soon released without Ray and Claude, which causes extreme frustration and a bitter falling out between them, ending their friendship. Over the following years, Ray attempts several escapes alone unsuccessfully.

By 1972, Ray and Claude are still not speaking; all their friends except for Willie, are gone through either release or death. One day, Claude snaps, running past the gun line to steal a pie, and he is punished by having to stand barefoot on a case of bottles. Dillard offers to set Ray free if he will shoot Claude should he move. Ray refuses and is given the same punishment. Touched, Claude apologizes, and they finally make amends.

Ray and Claude are transferred to live and work at Superintendent Dexter Wilkins' mansion. Ray does yard work, while Claude works inside and befriends Wilkins. Claude is entrusted to pick up the new superintendent, who happens to be Sheriff Warren Pike. While on a pheasant hunt one day, Ray notices that Pike has his father's watch and realizes he is the one who framed them 40 years prior. When Ray presses Pike on the true origins of the watch, Pike instantly recognizes Ray and threatens to kill him. Ray then grabs Pike's shotgun and points it at him. He tells Wilkins that Pike framed him and Claude for murder, which the sheriff admits to with no remorse, saying that state of Mississippi had them as cheap labor for 40 years. As Claude struggles to stop Ray from killing him, Pike aims at them both with a hidden Derringer. Realizing that they are both innocent, Wilkins kills Pike and covers it up as a hunting accident. He apologizes to Ray and Claude for their unjust imprisonment and promises to write their pardons, but suffers a fatal heart attack before he can do so.

In 1997, present day, Ray and Claude live in the prison infirmary with Willie. Claude tells Ray of a new plan, which Ray initially rejects, but then follows Claude to hear more. Later that night, the infirmary catches fire, and they seemingly perish in the flames. The inmates are saddened by the story, and Willie concludes the tale by outlining Claude's plan: Ray and Claude would steal two bodies from the morgue, start the blaze, plant the bodies in their beds, then hide and escape in the fire trucks. When asked why the plan did not work, Willie tells the workers that he "never said it didn't work". The inmates quickly realize the bodies they have buried are not Ray and Claude, who have gone back to New York immediately and are watching a Yankees game. They are again on good terms, free and living together in Harlem.



In July 1996, it was announced Eddie Murphy would star in the buddy comedy Life.[7][8] The film was the result of a pitch Murphy gave to Brian Grazer, whom Murphy previously worked with on The Nutty Professor.[9] The film was the first of a two-movie deal between Murphy and Imagine Entertainment, the second being Bowfinger.[9][10]

Although Life is set in Parchman, Mississippi, it was filmed in California.[11] Filming locations in the Los Angeles area included Downey[12] and Norwalk,[13] in addition to the Universal Pictures backlot.[9] Locations in northern California included Sacramento,[14] Brentwood, and Locke. Filming took place from March to June of 1998.[15]


Box office[edit]

Life was released on April 16, 1999 in North America. On its opening weekend, the film grossed $20,414,775, making it one of the biggest April openings at that time.[1][16] However, its gross the next weekend amounted to $11,257,995, and $6,481,175 in its third weekend.[10][1] Its domestic run concluded with $63,886,029 for a worldwide total of $73,475,268, making it a financial disappointment.[1][10]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 52% based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The site's critic consensus reads, "Entertaining if not over-the-top humor from a solid comic duo provides plenty of laughs."[17] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[19]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave a positive review, writing "Lawrence and Murphy make an entertaining team", and noting "Murphy in particular develops a more substantial personality than might be expected here. As he evolves affectingly from a fast-talking hotshot into an old man with the growl and gait of a venerable blues singer, he seems to be reaching for a greater acting opportunity than this lightweight material can offer. It's a performance that feels solid even when the film is at its most formulaic, or when it vacillates strangely."[20]

Since its release, the film has gained a strong cult following, with Elliot Smith of Entertainment Weekly classifying it as one of Murphy’s best:

A surprisingly touching buddy comedy-drama that both lives up to and subverts audience expectations, Life has become a cult classic over the past 20-plus years, showing the artistic range of stars Murphy and Martin Lawrence. The film is greatly aided by the steady hand of director Ted Demme, who gives his actors both freedom to shine while also reining in their overwrought impulses.[21]



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.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Life". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  2. ^ "The Best Martin Lawrence Movies and How to Watch Them Online". CinemaBlend. April 25, 2022.
  3. ^ "The Underrated, Classic Buddy Comedy 'Life' Turns 21 Today". The Shadow League. April 16, 2020.
  4. ^ "Beloved Eddie Murphy Comedy Laughs Its Way into Netflix's Top 10 Charts". December 5, 2021.
  5. ^ "A Forgotten 90s Eddie Murphy Movie is Now Available on Netflix". Giant Freakin Robot. December 3, 2021.
  6. ^ Butt, Thomas (January 28, 2023). "'Life' Shows Eddie Murphy's Underused Dramatic Chops". Collider. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  7. ^ "Murphy in Grazer's 'Life'". Variety. July 3, 1996. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  8. ^ Brennan, Judy (July 5, 1996). "After Several Miscues, Murphy Gets Some Roles People Want to See". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 3, 2023. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  9. ^ a b c Eller, Claudia (March 13, 1998). "Trust Me: These Two Click Together". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 24, 2023. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c "Life (1999)". Bomb Report. March 13, 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  11. ^ Cheseborough, Steve (2004). Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues. University Press of Mississippi. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-57806-650-6. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  12. ^ "Downey Studios". Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  13. ^ "Filmed in Norwalk". Norwalk Filming Information Hub. Retrieved February 17, 2023.
  14. ^ "Best Movies Set in the Sacramento Area". CBS News. November 15, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  15. ^ "Life (1999) - Miscellaneous Notes". Turner Classic Movie Database. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  16. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (April 20, 1999). "Eddie Murphy's Charmed 'Life'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  17. ^ "Life (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  18. ^ "Life". Metacritic. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  19. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  20. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 16, 1999). "'Life': Big Yuks in the Big House for Two of the Old Jailbirds". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  21. ^ Smith, Elliott (January 10, 2023). "The 21 best (and worst) Eddie Murphy movies".
  22. ^ "The 72nd Academy Awards".
  23. ^ "The 31st NAACP Image Awards (2000) | Full Show". June 6, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2023 – via YouTube.
  24. ^ "BMI Honors Top Film and TV Composers". May 15, 2000. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  25. ^ "Blockbuster Entertainment Awards 2000". YouTube. September 10, 2022. Retrieved March 3, 2023.

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