Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Favorite Era: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)/Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

Here's another double feature as we look at two of Eddie Murphy's finest.  I did a piece on the entire franchise for The Agony Booth last year, and honestly said everything I could possibly could in that article.  In light of that, this is a somewhat condensed version of that piece.  And by condensed, I mean you won't see even one single mention of the awful third movie.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

1984 was the year Eddie Murphy really came into his own.,  While he had been funny on Saturday Night Live and his first two movies (48 Hrs. and Trading Places) were very good, Beverly Hills Cop sent him through the stratosphere with a relatively fresh, very funny action/comedy produced by the mega-blockbuster team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.  This one is the film that really got these two going and led to stuff like Top Gun, The Rock and eventually Bruckheimer's solo career after Simpson died.

The premise for the original movie is your basic fish-out-of-water story, only in this case, the fish is a wiseass Detroit cop looking for the guy who killed his friend. Said cop is Axel Foley, and Murphy plays him with a cocky swagger that’s letter-perfect. Foley is the perfect Eddie Murphy character: loud, sarcastic, but also sincere and loyal to those he cares about. It’s this small touch that makes what would otherwise be a rather obnoxious character into someone we can root for.

We first meet Foley while he’s undercover, trying to bust some hijackers. As tends to be the case in action movies, things go awry and a huge chase ensues, this time with the Detroit PD chasing down a truck loaded with cigarettes, while Axel hangs on for dear life while “Neutron Dance” by the Pointer Sisters blares on the soundtrack.

After the obligatory ass-chewing from Inspector Todd (the very amusing Gil Hill, who used to be an actual Detroit police officer), Axel reunites with Mikey (James Russo), an old friend. They chat and later, Mikey is killed by Zack (Jonathan Banks), a goon who works for Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), an art gallery owner who also deals drugs on the side.

Axel finds himself in Beverly Hills, where he encounters some of the local law enforcement, namely Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Det. Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), and Sgt. Taggart (John Ashton).  At first, they’re a nuisance to Axel’s investigation, but eventually they begin to warm to each other in a series of amusing sequences that culminate in Axel going after Maitland at his house in order to rescue Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), another old friend who also works for the art gallery. As tends to be the case in ‘80s action movies, the showdown is bloody and loud, but in the end, the good guys win.
That’s the basic plot, but the real joy of the movie is watching Eddie Murphy take what’s essentially a standard action script (it was originally set to be a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, and the ensuing re-write Stallone gave it was turned into Cobra) and making it work by simply being the funniest guy on the whole damned planet.

He improvises brilliantly throughout, with the “super cops” monologue being the best. Hell, his fellow actors are visibly trying not to laugh during the whole damn thing. Murphy turns in a stellar comic performance here, at a time when he could do no wrong.

The other actors do solid work too, with the best being Steven Berkoff as the main villain. Berkoff is a noted British theater performer, but from 1983 to 1985, he turned in three fantastic performances as bad guys: His performance here, a crazed Russian General in the James Bond epic Octopussy (which I will get to soon), and a slightly less crazed Russian  going up against Rambo in the second film of that series.

Judge Reinhold and John Ashton are also quite funny as two cops who are almost incompetent, but not quite. The real comic find of the movie (for about four minutes and change) is Bronson Pinchot, however, as Serge. Serge is a rather bizarre man with an unplaceable accent who works at the art gallery and has a showcase scene with Murphy. This would lead to Pinchot getting a lead role on the sitcom Perfect Strangers, where he would play an even more eccentric character.  Additionally, Paul Reiser has a small role as one of Foley’s fellow officers. He returns for the first sequel.

Stellar comedic performances aside, the film also benefits from an excellent soundtrack that mixes a good Harold Faltermeyer score with hits songs from Kenny Loggins, the aforementioned Pointer Sisters, and Patti LaBelle, amongst others. This was the heyday for movie soundtracks, as most of them were infused with popular music from the period, especially those produced by Simpson and Bruckheimer.
All this makes for the quintessential ‘80s action-comedy.

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

Beverly Hills Cop II is essentially the same movie as the first one, only louder and slicker with an equally cool soundtrack. If Martin Brest directed the first movie more as a comedy with some violence here and there, Tony Scott takes the sequel down the “action film with some comedy in it” route.

It all begins with Karla (Brigitte Nielsen) staging a jewelry store heist in Beverly Hills, the first in what are eventually called “The Alphabet Crimes”, as letters are left at the crime scenes. Bogomil ends up getting shot while investigating the matter, and this brings Foley back to the west coast.

He goes through his usual routine of con jobs, until he gets to the main baddie for the film, a quietly creepy millionaire arms dealer named Dent, expertly played by Jurgen Prochnow.  We get the usual assortment of gun battles and chases until it’s all resolved, and to be frank, it doesn’t offer much in the way of new things for the viewer.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, however. In fact, it’s rather underrated in my view.  The story may be the same, but having Tony Scott onboard as director gives things a more polished feel.

Performances are also solid, with Murphy and Reinhold turning in another set of funny performances. Reinhold is especially funny, as Billy has gone from being merely a somewhat dippy goofball... to a somewhat dippy goofball with a major Rambo fixation. Reinhold has a way of playing slightly crazy that’s actually quite funny.

On the villain side of things, Prochnow and Nielsen are okay, though Mrs. Stallone is really just here for her looks, while Prochnow gives a nicely creepy performance. Dean Stockwell also pops up as a minor villain, and since we need a blustering police chief (though we get do our Gil Hill fix ), Allen Garfield is on hand as the amazingly incompetent and abusive Chief Lutz. Seriously, it’s amazing that the mayor waits until the end of the movie to fire his ass!

There are some flaws, though. As entertaining as Prochnow is, he isn’t really given enough screen time to make much of an impression, and his death seems rather perfunctory. The plot also is, at times, just a little too identical to the original for my liking.

I really don’t give a damn if a sequel wants to tell basically the same story (it worked out just fine for Die Hard 2), but at the very least, it has to avoid just copying itself blatantly. I’m looking at you, extraneous strip club scene. At least in the first film, it was mainly about Foley messing with Taggart and Rosewood a little while also talking shop.

I could also have done without one of the two comic cameos in the movie. While Chris Rock is fine in his bit part, we have to endure Gilbert Gottfried as Dent’s lawyer in one scene. I have nothing personal against the man; I hear when he’s not on camera or in front of a microphone he actually sounds normal, but dear lord does his comic voice make me want to lop my ears off with a machete! On the plus side, we do get a return appearance from Paul Reiser... which is either a compliment to him or an insult to Gilbert. I’m not sure which, really.

What the hell, I’m in a generous mood. It’s both!

Plot issues and annoying comics aside, this is a fine action movie with a good shootout at the end, and an entertaining chase with Rosewood pursuing an armored car in a cement truck while Foley yells at him.  I'd also like to mention the novelization which I am the proud owner of.  That's dedication to a film, folks.

So, we have a solid cast in a solid action movie that provides solid entertainment. I think what really makes the film work is just how brutally '80s it is. Seriously, both this and the original movie are so clearly a product of their time it’s hilarious. Glossy cinematography, pumped up soundtracks, comedy laced with violent action, these are both fantastic action/comedies. Beverly Hills Cop II is just plain fun.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.