Life (1999 film)

Life is a 1999 American buddy comedy-drama film written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone and directed by Ted Demme. The film stars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. It is the second film that Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence have worked on, the first being Boomerang. 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's format is 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 dvd movie cover.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTed Demme
Produced byBrian Grazer
Eddie Murphy
Written byRobert Ramsey
Matthew Stone
Music byR. Kelly
Wyclef Jean
CinematographyGeoffrey Simpson
Edited byJeffrey Wolf
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 16, 1999 (1999-04-16)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million
Box office$73.3 million


In 1997 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, elderly convict Willie Long (Obba Babatundé) attends the burial of two friends and fellow inmates who recently died in an infirmary fire. As two younger inmates begin digging their graves, Willie begins to recount the life story of his deceased friends.

In 1932, Rayford "Ray" Gibson (Eddie Murphy) and Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence) are two 25-year-old New Yorkers from two different worlds. Ray is a small-time hustler and a 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. One evening, they are both at a club called Spanky's when Ray picks Claude as his mark to pick-pocket. After a meeting in the bathroom, they both end up in the bad graces of the club's owner Spanky (Rick James), with Spanky threatening to drown Claude until Ray convinces Spanky to allow himself and Claude to do some boot-legging to pay off their debt. Claude is spared, and he and Ray begin heading down south in order to buy a carload of Mississippi "hooch". Upon arrival, they pay for the booze and enter a local bar, where Ray meets a man named Winston Hancock (Clarence Williams III) while playing cards. With no money, Ray bets his father's prized pocketwatch, but ends up losing the game and the watch to Winston. Dejected, Ray soon realises the game was fixed after discovering a waitress had helped Winston win the game. Outside of the bar, Hancock is shot and killed by the town's sheriff, Warren Pike (Ned Vaughn), who frames Ray and Claude for the murder. At the trial, the two are convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Ray and Claude are sent to an infamous prison camp of the Mississippi State Prison called "Camp 8" to perform hard labor. Ray and Claude immediately run afoul of the guards, Sergeant Dillard (Nick Cassavetes) and Hoppin' Bob (Brent Jennings), and soon become acquainted with their fellow inmates: Jangle Leg (Bernie Mac), an inmate who makes a pass at Claude, Willie Long (Babatundé), Biscuit (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), a homosexual inmate, Radio (Guy Torry), Goldmouth (Michael Taliferro), an imposing prison bully who initially picks a fight with Ray, Cookie (Anthony Anderson), the prison chef, and Pokerface (Barry Shabaka Henley). Shortly into his sentence, Claude has his attorney cousin, Melvin, appeal against his conviction with his girlfriend Daisy's help, but it is denied, and shortly afterwards, Daisy leaves him for Melvin. With any chance of earning his freedom gone, Claude and Ray devise a plan to escape, getting as far as Tallahatchie before being captured and sentenced to a week each in solitary confinement.

In 1944, Claude and Ray meet a young mute inmate nicknamed "Can't-Get-Right" (Bokeem Woodbine), a talented baseball player who catches the eye of a Negro League scout who tells the warden that he can get his sentence pardoned if he agrees to play professional baseball. Ray and Claude, seeing an opportunity for freedom, introduce themselves to the scout as his "handlers", and tell him that he will struggle to play well without them. Despite his talent, Can't-Get-Right is often distracted by his attraction to Mae-Rose (Poppy Montgomery), the daughter of the Camp 8's superintendent Abernathy (O'Neal Compton). After Mae-Rose gives birth to a biracial boy, an enraged Abernathy demands to know who the father is, and, although none of the inmates initially claim responsibility, it is revealed that Can't-Get-Right is the father. The other inmates then simultaneously claim to be the father to confuse Abernathy and save Can't-Get-Right from punishment. During a dance social, Biscuit confides to Ray that he is due for release but is too ashamed to return to his family because of his homosexuality. Biscuit then commits suicide by deliberately running across the "gun line", where he is shot and killed by a guard after Bob hesitates to do so having grown to care for the inmates. After Can't-Get-Right is released to play for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Ray devises another escape plan but Claude refuses, upset with the fact that Can't-Get-Right was released without them. The argument results in Ray and Claude going their separate ways – Ray attempts a number of escapes on his own, while Claude continues to work on the camp.

By 1972, Ray and Claude are still not speaking to one another and all of their fellow inmates have either died or been released from prison, except for Willie, now confined to a wheelchair. One day, Claude snaps and runs across the gun line to steal a pie from a windowsill, and is punished by having to stand barefoot on a case of bottles for 24 hours. Dillard tells Ray to watch Claude and shoot him if he steps off of the bottles. Ray refuses and is ordered to partake in the same punishment, where he and Claude begin to talk and repair their friendship. One day, Dillard transfers Ray and Claude to live and work at Superintendent Dexter Wilkins' (Ned Beatty) mansion. Ray works outside of the house, taking care of the yard, while Claude works inside the house and forms a friendship with Wilkins. Shortly after moving into the house, Claude is entrusted to drive and pick up the new superintendent, Sheriff Warren Pike (R. Lee Ermey), the same man who framed them for murder forty years earlier. While on a pheasant hunt, Ray notices that Pike still has his father's watch and confronts him. He then tells Wilkins that Pike framed him and Claude for murder, and the sheriff admits to it claiming he wanted to get some cheap labor. As Claude struggles to stop Ray from killing Pike, Pike attempts to kill them both, but he is shot and killed by Wilkins, who, realizing that Ray and Claude are indeed innocent, covers it up as a hunting accident, but suffers a fatal heart attack that same night before he can give them a pardon.

In 1997, an elderly Ray and Claude are living in the prison infirmary. Claude tells Ray of yet another plan he has devised, but Ray has accepted his fate of dying in prison. That night, the infirmary catches fire, and they seemingly perish in the flames. 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, hide in the fire trucks and depart with them in the morning. Willie then reveals to the workers and inmates that the plan did indeed work: the bodies they buried are not Ray and Claude, who have escaped back to New York, and are watching a New York Yankees baseball game. The film concludes by revealing the two are again on good terms, free and living together in Harlem.



Box officeEdit

Life was released on April 16, 1999 in North America. The film grossed $73,345,029 worldwide against an $80 million budget, making it a financial disappointment.[1][2]

Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 50% based on reviews from 54 critics. The site's critic consensus reads, "Entertaining if not over-the-top humor from a solid comic duo provides plenty of laughs."[3] On Metacritic it has a score of 63 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[4] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave it a grade B+.[5]

Awards and nominationsEdit

  • 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)


Even though Life was set in Parchman, Mississippi, it was filmed in California;[6] filming locations include Brentwood, CA, Locke, CA, Los Angeles, Downey, CA, and Sacramento, CA. Parts of the film were shot at a Rockwell Defense Plant in California.[citation needed]


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. ^ "Eddie Murphy's Charmed 'Life'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
  2. ^ "Life". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  3. ^ "Life (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  4. ^ Life, retrieved 2020-05-20
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20. Retrieved 2019-01-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Cheseborough, Steve, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues. University Press of Mississippi, 2004. Also some parts were shot in Angola Prison. This is located in Louisiana. 96. Retrieved from Google Books on September 29, 2010. ISBN 1-57806-650-6, ISBN 978-1-57806-650-6.

External linksEdit