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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ted Demme
Produced by Brian Grazer
Eddie Murphy
Written by Robert Ramsey
Matthew Stone
Narrated by Obba Babatundé
Starring Eddie Murphy
Martin Lawrence
Music by Wyclef Jean
Cinematography Geoffrey Simpson
Editing by Jeffrey Wolf
Studio Imagine Entertainment
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) April 13, 1999
Running time 108 min.
Language English
Budget $75,000,000 (estimated)

Life is a 1999 comedy-drama film directed by Ted Demme, and starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. The supporting cast includes Obba Babatundé, Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson, Miguel A. Núñez Jr. and Bokeem Woodbine. The film's format is a story being told by an elderly inmate (Babatundé) about two of his friends' (Murphy and Lawrence), who are both wrongly convicted of murder and given a life sentence in prison.

Life was released in April 1999 and went on to gross over $60 million at the box office. K-Ci & JoJo sang the film's theme song, which was titled "Life", but it was the song "Fortunate" by Maxwell that garnered the most attention from the soundtrack as it received several awards and nominations.

Life was shot at various locations in California; locations include Locke, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Downey, CA, and Sacramento, CA. Parts of the film were actually shot at a Rockwell Defense Plant in California.



The film begins with an elderly disabled inmate named Willie Long (Obba Babatundé) at the burial of his two friends who have just recently died in a fire in the prison's infirmary. He begins to tell two young men (Heavy D and Bonz Malone) who work at the prison their story:

Ray Gibson (Murphy) and Claude Banks (Lawrence) are two New Yorkers in 1932 from different worlds: Ray is a small-time hustler and Claude has just been accepted for a job as a bank teller, trying to make something of himself. 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 he owes money. Ray arranges to have himself and Claude do some boot-legging in order to pay off both of their debts to Spanky.

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 their 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". The point of the club is just to have it in your imagination and it doesn't have to be real. 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).

Ray and Claude make several attempts to escape the prison. Early in their incarceration, they simply try running away in the middle of the night, getting as far as Tallahatchie before being tracked down and sentenced to a week in the hole. Around 1944, during World War II, they meet a fellow mute inmate named 'Can't-Get-Right' (Bokeem Woodbine) who happens to be an extremely proficient baseball player. He catches the eye of a Negro League scout who indicates he can get him out of prison to play baseball. Ray and Claude try to get 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 this eventually falls through and only 'Can't-Get-Right' is released. The gay inmate Biscuit is killed around this time when he deliberately runs into a gun line and is shot a month before his release. His lover, Jangle Leg, never fully recovers from this. After 'Can't-Get-Right' is released to play baseball in Pittsburgh, Ray makes another escape plan but Claude wants no part of it. Claude starts resigning himself to the fact that they'll never get out ("They threw us in this shithole for LIFE, Ray...we're gonna die here!). This leads to an argument, which in turn leads to Ray and Claude ending their friendship. With them not talking, Camp 8 gets "a little harder and colder", and as the years passed, all of the inmates who were friends of Ray, Claude, and Willie died.

Many years later after a number of events occurring including 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 last win. In 1972, Ray, Claude and Willie are now older. Willie is too old and weak to walk and he is now in a wheelchair. Hoppin' Bob died years ago and Sgt. Dillard still runs the camp, still annoying Ray and Claude. One day, Ray and Claude are sent over to live at the Superintendent Dexter Wilkins' (Ned Beatty) mansion to work for him. Upon their departure, Sgt. Dillard says "I, for one, won't miss you" (although his emotional disposition would indicate otherwise.) Claude drives Superintendent Wilkins to pick up the new superintendent (R. Lee Ermey) who happens to be Sheriff Pike, the man who framed them 40 years earlier. In the midst of a heated argument over a watch that Pike stole from Ray, Pike gets shot and killed by Wilkins, who realizes they really were innocent. He tells Ray and Claude he intends to write pardon papers for the two of them, but dies of a heart attack before he's able to do so.

In 1997, the present day, Ray and Claude are now elderly, and living in the (now-integrated) prison's infirmary with Willie. They realize by now that the only way they'll escape the prison is when they die. However, the infirmary catches fire, and everyone is able to get out except Claude. Willie tells Ray he's still inside, Ray goes back in to find him, when the entrance caves in behind him, presumably killing him.

In present day, Willie concludes the tale and the two workers are saddened by the story, but he reveals that the event was planned by Ray and Claude. The workers are still confused, but Willie only rolls off in his wheelchair, laughing and smoking a cigarette. The two bodies being buried, presumably of Ray and Claude, were actually taken from the morgue, and Ray and Claude had escaped the fire and prison by hiding on the departing fire trucks. The film ends with Ray and Claude (now living in Harlem) at a New York Yankees baseball game, doing what they always do: argue. It concludes saying they have chosen to live together despite their many fights and the fact they spent the last 65 years with each other's company.


Character Actor
Rayford 'Ray' Gibson Eddie Murphy
Claude Banks Martin Lawrence
Willie Long (The Narrator) Obba Babatundé
Sergeant Dillard Nick Cassavetes
Cookie Anthony Anderson
Pokerface Barry Shabaka Henley
Jangle Leg Bernie Mac
Hoppin' Bob Brent Jennings
Biscuit Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.
Goldmouth Michael Taliferro
Radio Guy Torry
Can't-Get-Right Bokeem Woodbine
Dexter Wilkins Ned Beatty
Sylvia Lisa Nicole Carson
Superintendent Abernathy O'Neal Compton
Stan Blocker Noah Emmerich
Spanky Johnson Rick James
Winston Hancock Clarence Williams III
Jake Heavy D
Leon Bonz Malone
Younger Sheriff Pike Ned Vaughn
Older Sheriff Pike R. Lee Ermey
Daisy Sanaa Lathan
Adult Mae Rose Abernathy Poppy Montgomery
Young Mae Rose Abernathy Allyson Call

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)

Soundtrack listing

The soundtrack album was released on March 16, 1999.

  1. "25 to Life" - Xzibit, Ja Rule, Juvenile,Nature, Reptile aka Rep Tilly-on
  2. "It's Like Everyday" - DJ Quik, Mausberg and R. Kelly
  3. "Stimulate Me" - Destiny's Child featuring Mocha
  4. "Fortunate" - Maxwell *
  5. "Lovin' You" - Sparkle
  6. "Every Which Way" - Talent featuring Vegas Cats
  7. "It's Gonna Rain" - Kelly Price
  8. "Discovery" - Brian McKnight
  9. "Follow the Wind" - Trisha Yearwood
  10. "Why Should I Believe You?" - Mýa
  11. "What Would You Do?" - City High *
  12. "What Goes Around" - Khadegia featuring Marie Antoinette
  13. "Speechless" - Isley Brothers
  14. "Life" - K-Ci & JoJo *
  15. "New Day" - Wyclef Jean

(*) indicates songs were released as singles

External links



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