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Demme set for ‘Life’; is Lawrence?

“Beautiful Girls” and “The Ref” helmer Ted Demme has inked a deal to direct Eddie Murphy, and likely Martin Lawrence, in the Imagine Entertainment pic “Life” for Universal Pictures, sources said.

The project looks to team Murphy with fellow funny guy Lawrence (“Bad Boys,” “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate”), who is in negotiations to co-star in the buddy prison comedy. “Life” actually would mark the second time the duo has appeared onscreen together: Lawrence had a supporting role in the 1992 Murphy starrer “Boomerang.”

Written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, “Life” tells the story of two friends in the 1940s who are given life prison sentences, and follows their antics up until the present time.

Imagine’s Brian Grazer will produce the pic, which is skedded to go before the cameras in January.

Imagine and Murphy hit box office gold once before: Last year, Murphy starred in the $129 million-plus box office grosser “The Nutty Professor” from the production banner and Universal.

Murphy has been attached to the project — which was conceived on the set of “The Nutty Professor,” another project from Imagine — since March 1996 (Daily Variety, March 22, 1996).

Demme has had a quick rise since his days as an MTV production assistant in the late ’80s. After helming and producing shows and videos that appeared on the musicvid network, he segued to direct the feature “Who’s the Man?,” a broad comedy starring two of his MTV regulars, Doctor Dre and Ed Lover.

Demme’s first high-profile feature was the 1994 dark comedy “The Ref,” starring Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary and Judy Davis. He followed with the comedy/drama “Beautiful Girls” last year.

He’s currently in post-production on the indie pic “Noose,” a gritty Irish-American drama, which he produced along with Joel Stillerman, Jim Serpico, Elie Samaha and Nicolas Clermont. The film stars an ensemble cast, including Leary, Kelly Lynch, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney and Billy Crudup.

Murphy recently wrapped Betty Thomas’ “Dr. Dolittle” for 20th Century Fox, and currently is shooting the Stephen Herek-helmed “Holy Man” for Touchstone Pictures.

Lawrence currently can be seen in the Touchstone Pictures comedy “Nothing to Lose” with Tim Robbins.

Demme’s deal was brokered by the Creative Artists Agency and his managers at Addis-Wechsler & Associates.