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Should I Watch..? Beverly Hills Cop
What's the big deal?
Beverly Hills Cop is an action comedy film released in 1984 and directed by Martin Brest. It is the first film to feature Eddie Murphy's now iconic role of Detroit homicide detective Axel Foley as he travels to Beverly Hills to investigate a murder on his patch in Michigan. Originally conceived as an all-action thriller for Sylvester Stallone, the film was substantially rewritten when Stallone dropped out and Murphy joined the project. As a result, it became much more comedic in nature and even more so when Murphy started improvising much of his dialogue. It launched the career of Murphy as well as Brest and became the most successful film of the year. Its legendary synthesizer soundtrack also achieved cult status, even winning a Grammy.
What's it about?
Axel Foley is a young and reckless detective in Detroit who is constantly getting into trouble with his boss, Inspector Todd. Foley meets up with a friend of his, Mikey Tandino, who works as a security guard in Beverly Hills. Tandino shows Foley some German bearer bonds but before Foley can question him, Tandino is beaten up and killed. Despite pleading with Todd to investigate the murder, Foley is ordered to take a vacation so he packs his things and makes his way to Beverly Hills to conduct his own investigation.
Once there, he meets up with a mutual friend of Tandinos - Jenny Summers who works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland. He also encounters the Beverly Hills police department in the form of Billy Rosewood and his partner John Taggart and their superior, Lieutenant Bogomil. Convinced that Maitland is hiding something, Foley's unorthodox methods clash with the by-the-book world Rosewood and Taggart inhabit and before long, Foley is stirring things up in a way that California simply isn't used to.
Det. Axel Foley
Det. Billy Rosewood
Sergeant John Taggart
Lt. Andrew Bogomil
Daniel Petrie Jr *
Release Date (UK)
25th January, 1985
Academy Award Nomination
Best Screenplay Written For The Screen
What's to like?
It's not that hard to believe that as a concept, this movie was originally designed with Stallone in mind because without Murphy, the movie could be any old cop shooter. But insert Murphy back in and Beverly Hills Cop becomes a genuinely funny film. Wisely allowing Murphy the space to improvise, Martin Brest captures Murphy at the peak of his powers (remember that Murphy is still seen on TV screens on "Saturday Night Live" in 1984) and the result is the motor-mouth style we now associate with Murphy, unfiltered and uncensored. Perhaps it's not surprising that the only other cast member who plays for laughs as well as Murphy is Bronson Pinchot as the gay stereotype Serge although it's hard to ignore Ashton and Reinhold's chemistry as the bickering cop couple.
Of course, this film being a product of producing powerhouses Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the film also looks the business as well. Beverly Hills is a fairly unique place, especially in the money-hungry 80's, and it looks as though every cent of the budget appears on screen. The action, when it comes, is competently staged and exciting to watch and it has a glossy style you now come to expect from these two. Beverly Hills Cop is a real audience pleaser and assuming you aren't too familiar with it, it can still deliver the goods more than thirty years later.
- Inspector Todd was played by real-life Detroit homicide detective Gil Hill. Hill would later serve on and be President of Detroit City Council.
- During the 'super-cops' monologue, Ashton is seen looking down and pinching his nose trying not to laugh. Reinhold has his hand in his pocket, pinching his thigh, trying to stop laughing as well.
- When director Martin Brest was asked to direct, he literally flipped a quarter to decide whether to take the job or not. Since the film was a runaway hit, Brest had the quarter framed and hung on his wall.
What's not to like?
But all it takes is a little rewinding and there are some unpleasant home truths. Without Murphy, the film's screenplay feels like a horrible stew of reheated leftovers from a dozen other action cop films. Stallone, once he left, rewrote the script and turned it into Cobra (1), a depressing and stale cop shooter with excessive violence and not an ounce of (intentional) humour - I hate it when you can see a film-makers cut-and-paste approach to a script because I struggle to escape the feeling that it sat on a number of producers' desks, unloved and unwanted. Indeed, the screenplay for Beverly Hills Cop was originally conceived back in 1977.
And for all its gloss, Beverly Hills Cop is actually a pretty shallow film as a result. I'm not saying that its bad - far from it - but it never stays in the memory for long. You don't recall any of Foley's epic rants or shouting fits, funny as they were. It appears, it's seen and it leaves without so much as a 'thank you for watching'. Of course, action cop films are impossible to avoid these days and there isn't much about Beverly Hills Cop to make it stand out from the crowd besides Murphy's performance. Plus, it has Judge Reinhold in it - an actor who, to me, always looks like he's surprised to be acting in a film at all and is worried that someone will rumble him.
Should I watch it?
Probably. It might be as old-fashioned as a Viking funeral but Beverly Hills Cop is still worth a watch, mainly due to Murphy's electric performance as Axel. He is genuinely funny in it and it's sad to see such potential wasted nowadays in nonsense like A Thousand Words (2) and Meet Dave (3). But Murphy's effortless improvising turned a generic and forgettable cop film into a legendary one and I defy anyone not to feel nostalgic when Harold Faltermeyer's iconic synth soundtrack starts up.
Great For: 80's themed nights, Eddie Murphy fans, people who don't watch too many cop films
Not So Great For: younger viewers used to more recent stuff, kids born in the 90's
What else should I watch?
As you may have guessed, there are no shortage of cop movies out there to choose from. Indeed, this film would go on to spawn two sequels although I'd only bother with Beverly Hills Cop II (4) which is essentially a rehash of the first one. Of course, there's always Cobra so you can still get this film with Stallone in it if you really wanted to. Just don't expect any laughs.
Speed (5) is also a surprisingly good film, mixing extreme action with more subtle hints of comedy and then there's also the other big action-cop franchise from the 80's - Lethal Weapon (6) and its sequels may be as generic as this and not quite as funny but Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are a great double act and the films are still fun if you switch your brain off.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox