Coming out in 1984, the first Beverly Hills Cop coasted mostly on star Eddie Murphy’s charm and the use of infectious high-energy pop songs to drive most of the movie. The mix of the songs with the action and comedy that permeated throughout the movie made it a resounding success at the time and firmly established Murphy as a major star to be reckoned with, after making his big screen debut in action flick 48 Hrs and proving his comedy chops in Trading Places and featuring on Saturday Night Live.
Director Martin Brest showed off some skilled direction where action was concerned, opening the flick with a vehicular chase that trashed a large number of cars along the way, almost reminiscent of the vehicular carnage on The Blues Brothers (1980). Brest also showed he could manage near impeccable comic timing, be it to rely on Murphy alone or to derive humour from the situations within the context of the film itself. Something he would effectively prove in his follow-up, Midnight Run.
For the first movie, Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is drawn to Beverly Hills when he looks into the killing of an old friend (James Russo) and gets involved with a businessman (Steven Berkoff) who is into smuggling goods. While he gets some interference from a pair of local cops, Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) early on, they end up assisting him with the case.
While much of the movie is mostly driven by the songs in the first half, it’s Harold Faltermeyer’s pulsing techno-driven score that gives the second half its energy when the songs peter out. The main theme itself, Axel F, became a worldwide hit and is still instantly recognisable today. The high octane action, solid score and pop songs all led to enough success to warrant a sequel almost immediately.
When the second movie hit under the direction of Tony Scott, the change of directors was immediately noticeable. Right from the opening heist, the tone was remarkably different from the more grounded sensibilities of the first movie. A more stylised approach was present with the lighting and cinematography in particular, and the overall production design. Also less obvious was the use of pop songs, moving on to more rock oriented music. Faltermeyer returned with a fuller and richer score throughout the movie, driving what many perceived to be a weaker story.
Axel returns to Beverly Hill when his friend, Lt Bogamil (Ronny Cox) is shot. Axel re-teams with Taggart and Rosewood to investigate a series of heists tied to Bogamil’s personal investigation.
Personally, this one is my favourite of the three. Much of the humour is derived more from the character interactions with the three leads, Murphy, Ashton and Reinhold, brimming with infectious chemistry. Sure the situations are a little more far-fetched – like the bit involving the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner’s cameo – and the slightly more serious nature of the case detracts from the fun, but Scott manages to pull it all together. His stylistic direction gives it a different kind of energy that puts the movie on a different level from the other two. This was only Scott’s third movie and he would move on the more stylistic features, developing his own unique visual signature. He is really sorely missed.
It would be another six years before Murphy would return to the role of Foley in the mid 1990s, more as an attempt to revive a career downturn at the time. Many of the ingredients involved in the previous movies were missing, primarily producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and more noticeable is the absence of Harold Faltermeyer. While the main theme is carried over, the score by Nile Rodgers feels rather sparse and lacking the energy of the previous entries. The more orchestral variations on the theme does nothing much to infuse tension nor excitement for the action beats.
Director John Landis had worked with Murphy on two successful comedies, Trading Places and Coming to America, and it’s very clear he’s a director for hire here, doing the best he can with a lacklustre script that tries hard to find humour. Murphy also seemed lacking in energy and charm, yet still barging his way through against a far more formidable foe than before. Ultimately, the movie feels like a typical procedural at times with Foley going against the odds in his pursuit of revenge rather than justice. Even Judge Reinhold returning as Rosewood does nothing to revive the chemistry they had earlier, missing that extra ingredient that was John Ashton who didn’t return.
Landis does seem to be out of his element here, and it’s not for the lack of trying. A lot of the elements just seemed against the production itself. Martin Brest did well to kick off the series of films thus far finding some success with his follow-up films like Midnight Run and critical darling Scent of a Woman, but has since faded from the business after the critical failure of Gigli (2003).
The first two movies are a product of their times where a motormouth street cop from Detroit can use casual racism to get his way in the upscale and ‘proper’ Beverly Hills. Not sure how much of that can be accepted in movies these days, when all that which could pass for humour then was even missing by the third movie. Yet, they are still fun movies to while away a weekend, even if the third movie isn’t quite all up there.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Rating: **** /5
Directed by Martin Brest
Written by Daniel Petrie Jr
based on a story by Danilo Bach and Daniel Petrie Jr
Stars Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, Jonathan Banks, Gilbert R Hill, with Paul Reiser and James Russo
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Rating **** /5
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Larry Furguson and Warren Kaaren
based on a story by Eddie Murphy and Robert D Wachs
Stars Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Jürgen Prochnow, Ronny Cox, Brigitte Nielsen, Dean Stockwell, with Paul Reiser and Gilbert R Hill
Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
Rating: ** /5
Directed by John Landis
Written by Steven E de Souza
Stars Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizondo, Timothy Carhart, John Saxon, Theresa Randle, Alan Young, and Gilbert R Hill