On this day in comedy in April 13, 1999 Life was released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, Life is the second time the duo worked together and the last time Murphy did an R-rated film. The film dealt with two mismatched men thrown together by bad circumstances. Joined by perception they’re both accused of murder when they’re in the wrong place (a back alley) at the wrong time (after a man is killed) and get pinned with a crime that gets them sentenced to life in prison in the South; meaning a life of hard labor.
The story of Murphy and Lawrence is told by an old inmate (Obba Babatunde), who spent many of those years with them. He weaves the tale about how they were reluctant allies trying to initially get out through court appeal. That is until Lawrence tries to gain his freedom without including Murphy, who Lawrence views as a component to drag him down. Before entering prison Lawrence was on his way to get a job working for a reputable bank. Murphy was a small time hustler. For his betrayal Lawrence loses his girl (Sanaa Lathan) on the outside trying to help him. She leaves him for the lawyer working on his appeal. So life it is. That’s when Lawrence decides to join Murphy in his schemes to escape through not-so-legal methods.
The years pass slowly. During their stay the pair meet various inmates who die one by one over the years including prison staff (Nick Cassavetes, Erik Begnal, Brent Jennings). The survivors grow old together, through escape attempt after attempt, punishment after getting caught after punishment. Then one day they are old enough to be assigned to work for a local big shot (Ned Beatty) as domestic help in his home. All is well until the bigshot goes hunting with another visiting bigshot, who turns out to be the murderer responsible for their incarceration. A confrontation occurs and the old murderer is killed by the bigshot in defense of his workers. A pact is established between the three. The bigshot would release them the next day, but he died and it was back to prison for them.
As the story is told two young inmates (Heavy D, Bonz Malone) are burying two bodies. They think it must be Lawrence and Murphy who reportedly were burned up in a prison fire. The old narrator smiles knowingly. That’s because those two old rascals (90 years old each) had escaped and the final scene has them taking in a live game at Yankee Stadium after so many years of denial from such a basic treat. Now we all smiled.
Life was directed by Ted Demme and written by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone. The cast consisted of comedians: Bernie Mac, Guy Torry, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Anthony Anderson; actors: Bokeem Woodbine, Clarence Williams III, Michael Taliferro and Barry Shababa Henley as well as musical legend, Rick James.
Life received mixed reviews and was considered a box office failure. On a budget of $80 million Life grossed $75,576,029 worldwide. Regardless it was nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture, an Academy Award for Best Makeup and won a BMI Film & TV Award for Most Performed Song from a Film.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: