In the late 1990s, a film called The Good Life was all set to be released – but Sylvester Stallone wasn’t happy with it, and the problems quickly mounted up.
He might not be the most famous Stallone, but Frank – the brother of Sylvester – has a few films to his name. Music is more where his heart is, but he’s also notched up a small collection of acting credits in the likes of The Sex Trip (a 2016 movie where he played, er, Frank Stallone) and Hawk Warrior Of The Wheelzone (not seen it, but want to).
And, as it turns out, he and Sylvester have crossed paths on the big screen as well. He was in the diner having a bit of grub in Rocky Balboa for instance, and played an uncredited man at a funeral in the Sly-headlined take on Get Carter. Nothing attention grabbing, but enough to trouble the data compilers at IMDb.
Perhaps most intriguingly though, there’s the Frank and Sylvester big screen crossover that we didn’t get to see. The one that was completed, all set to be released, and then legalities happened.
Entitled The Good Life, the film in question was shot – in full – towards the end of the 1990s, working from a script by Alan Mehrez. Mehrez also (eventually) directed the feature, having earned his stripes helming Bloodsport II and Bloodsport III. This should have been a relatively quiet, straightforward project.
If you’ve not heard of it, you’re very much not alone. It first came to my attention browsing through back issues of Film Review magazine, and it was in the September 1999 edition – with the Oscar-losing Wild Wild West on the cover – that the story really emerged.
The film had been filmed with Frank Stallone starring alongside Dennis Hopper, Beverly D’Angelo, David Carradine and Andrew Dice Clay. Not a bad little ensemble there. Mind you, there’d been troubles during the shoot itself, leading to Mehrez removing the original director of the film – Barry Samson – from his job, and completing the film itself.
With a budget of just $5m, the movie wrapped filming in under a week, and a straightforward route to a home release was presumably being mapped out at that stage. It didn’t seem likely that The Good Life – not to be confused with the much-cherished British sitcom of the same name – would trouble the inside of a cinema, but it was presumably built to turn at least a small profit.
But if the actual production had come with problems, it was nothing compared to what happened afterwards.
Frank had put in a call and convinced Sylvester to take on a small cameo role in the movie, which should have been a nice little coup for the film. Sly worked for a day on the movie as a favour, with a reported understanding that it wouldn’t lead to the film being billed as a Sylvester Stallone picture. The producers though seemed to overplay their hand, and when the collected Stallones saw the way the film was soon being promoted, the fit began to hit the shan.
The cause of contention was how the promotional reel has suggested that Sylvester Stallone’s part in the film was beefier than it actually was. Tht The Good Life had the appearance of being promoted as a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, even though he was barely in it, and even then as a favour to his brother. Sylvester Stallone was not a happy man. Frank wasn’t best chuffed either.
Here’s the only clip I could find anywhere of the movie, with a news report that’ll happily save you reading the next paragraph or two….
Let’s pretend you didn’t hear the commentary on that video. As the low-res CNN report there reveals, Stallone, S promptly got his lawyers on the case.
A letter thus made its way into the inbox of the producers, charging them $20m for his work on the film. This was the going rate for Stallone’s salary at the time, given he was in the midst of his infamous $60m deal with Universal Pictures (that I wrote about here). Obviously, the producers didn’t have $20m in their back pocket to give to Sly, and so they took a different path: they countersued. The story around the film had overtaken the story of the film.
As Film Review reported, Stallone was suing for alleged “breach of contract, violation of his rights of publicity, and unauthorized use of his name and… likeness”.
The same report in turn alleges that the producers reckoned the gaggle of Stallones had “behaved like gangsters, claiming they received a phone call in which Frank stated that his superstar brother would destroy them”. Mehrez was quoted by CNN as saying “the Stallone brothers have teamed up to destroy me, to destroy my sister, to destroy our company”.
This claim, the report notes, was dismissed. All parties assembled behind closed doors to work out how to resolve the issue of the $5m movie that had generated $70m in legal threats and a fair few tasty lunches for a whole bunch of lawyers.
It was in July 1999 that the lawsuits were duly settled, although because they never made it before a judge, the terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed as the time (and never have been since).
What we do have is an Associated Press report that confirmed DEM Productions, FM Entertainment and the Stallone brothers had reached ‘an agreement’, with none of those parties spilling just what that agreement actually was. But it’s fair to say that it involved the film remaining under lock and key.
The path to a release was clearly closed off, and in spite of being finished, to this very day The Good Life has never been made publicly available. It’s one of those film stories where nobody came out the end of it particularly happy, and there wasn’t even a film at the end of it – even though it was finished – to show for all the arguments.
Whether the producers had to go full Batgirl on the movie and actually destroy it is unclear. But the fact that it’s not even leaked out anymore in the two decades since the story broke suggests that the chances of us every seeing it are very, very slim.
Note: just before I put this article live, I did a cursory search to see if anything else was out there. I deliberately didn’t read the article so as not to unconsciously copy/be influenced by it, but I do link to a piece at the terrific Little White Lies that appears to cover similar ground.
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