Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

3 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Reportedly, the screenplay for “Beverly Hills Cop,” an action film about a Detroit cop solving a case in Beverly Hills, has been passed around for years before it was finally greenlit. It went through several story developments, and tossed around actors for the lead role such as Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone. But then came Eddie Murphy for the part, which led to massive rewrites. Although, if you ask me, that’s a little hard to believe, because Eddie Murphy is such a master of improvisation that I wouldn’t be surprised if director Martin Brest just informed him of the situation his character was in, and then rolled the camera to see what he could do.

If that was the case, why was the screenplay for “Beverly Hills Cop” nominated for an Academy Award? The writing, aside from Eddie Murphy’s one-liners (most of which I believe were improvised), is quite generic.

Eddie Murphy stars as a tough, streetwise Detroit detective named Axel Foley. He gets himself in trouble with his commanding officer because he does things his own way. Axel’s friend comes to town, after six months of working in California. But some unfriendly visitors follow him because the friend has negotiable bonds that belong to them. They murder Axel’s friend, and Axel decides to use his “vacation time” to go to Beverly Hills and track the guys who did this. And while solving the case, Axel finds himself more at home in these posh California settings than in his ghetto Detroit origins, as he constantly adjusts to Beverly Hills customs.

Let’s face it—no one really cares about the story for “Beverly Hills Cop,” because mainly people seem to like “Beverly Hills Cop” just because of Eddie Murphy. Suffice it to say, Eddie Murphy is hilarious in this movie. Coming off of “SNL,” “48 HRS,” and “Trading Places,” Murphy again proved that he was one of the great comedic talents of his generation, and in “Beverly Hills Cop,” he does what he did best—playing the fast-talking, with-it underdog who also ended up being the smartest guy in a rich world. You can keep calling him Axel Foley in this movie, but let’s face it—we all called him Eddie Murphy. And no one plays Eddie Murphy like Eddie Murphy.

The entertaining aspects of “Beverly Hills Cop” aren’t merely the action scenes that take place, though admittedly some of them are kind of fun (including an opening chase scene in Detroit). Instead, they are the scenes in which Axel finds new ways to get by in Beverly Hills, always having the upper hand. It’s just a great amount of confidence that doesn’t get Axel down—there’s never a scene where he mopes because he doesn’t feel like he belongs. He’s just on vacation, and happens to be solving a case as he goes along with this challenge.

The only bit of this sort I didn’t find funny was the scene in which Axel loudly intimidates the desk clerk of a fancy hotel, playing the race card and thus getting himself a suite with a single-room discount. This scene was just uncomfortable to watch and listen to, and it’s also kind of embarrassing in the way it’s portrayed.

But just about every other scene of this sort gets a good laugh. Axel’s beater of a car driving on the same streets as Porsches and Cadillac’s is a good sight gag. Axel’s reaction to Michael Jackson impersonators walking the streets is good for a laugh. And how can you not love his reaction when he is thrown out of a window by five bodyguards of Axel’s main suspect, art dealer Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff)? Axel was there to ask Maitland a few questions (and Maitland does not look like the trustworthy type, despite his sophisticated manner), and then security came along, threw Axel out of a plate-glass window, and the cops show up. “You believe this?!” Axel asks the cops. “I can describe all of ‘em!” Then the cops arrest him. But why? “Disturbing the peace?! I got thrown out of a window! What’s the charge for getting pushed out of a moving car? Jaywalking?!” (No prizes for whoever guesses correctly whether or not that line was improvised.)

There are many other funny moments like that, and they also come with the Beverly Hills police force who get to know him after arresting him. Two detectives—stuffy sergeant Taggart (John Ashton) and young naïve Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, very funny)—are hired to follow him around, and Axel manages to befriend them because he’s able to teach them how to bend the rules and come up with fish tales to get off the hook. (Of course, he manages to befriend them after sticking a banana in the tailpipe of their patrol car, distracting them with a shrimp sandwich.) Axel takes them to a strip joint, where they manage to stop a violent situation from occurring.

But of course, there’s also the plot as it thickens. Maitland, it turns out, did arrange for Axel’s buddy to be murdered, and Axel sets out to prove it. Taggart and Rosewood wind up helping him, going beyond the book and doing things Axel’s way. And Axel’s old girlfriend Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher, quite appealing) gets caught up in the mix and gets kidnapped. And of course, this all leads to a climactic gunfight between the cops and the armed guards at Maitland’s house.

Actually, even in the action-filled climax, there are some good laughs to be had here—though, it’s mostly with Taggart and Rosewood reacting to their current situation. (it’s usually not a good idea to hold up a policeman’s badge and yell to a bunch of armed security that they’re all under arrest.)

Eddie Murphy, as I’ve said, is a lot of fun and has a great comedic energy to his performance. But he also has some interesting comic foils to work with and play off of. John Ashton and Judge Reinhold are effective while playing their roles straight, especially Reinhold whose naivety is quite amusing. Ronny Cox has some good moments as a Beverly Hills lieutenant who can’t believe how Axel is able to mess with two of his detectives. Lisa Eilbacher is game for reacting to Murphy’s antics. And there’s also a small part by Bronson Pinchot as one of the art gallery workers—his odd accent is indistinguishable, and Pinchot even manages to steal scenes from Murphy. And that’s no small feat.

But really, it all comes back to Eddie Murphy. He knows what he’s doing throughout this movie, and he’s clearly having fun while constantly keeping the upper hand. Even with the screenplay he’s saddled with, he still manages to make us laugh and care. He makes “Beverly Hills Cop” worth watching.

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