“You’re not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe?”
With the failures Mr. Eddie Murphy has been a part of since the 1990’s, it can be hard to remember that he was at one point in time a highly bankable movie star. The Saturday Night Live alum experienced great success with 48 Hrs. and Trading Places, but his starring role in Beverly Hills Cop gave moviegoers and critics a glimpse as to how big and marketable he could be. Murphy stars as Axel Foley, a charismatic, wisecracking, but talented young Detroit police officer who does cross the line into insubordination and recklessness from time to time.
The night after a failed sting operation, his old childhood buddy Mikey Tandino comes out of the blue from Beverly Hills and the two reconnect over drinks and pool. Upon arriving back to Foley’s apartment, they are both ambushed by two men who are looking to retrieve stolen bearer bonds. Despite pleading for his life, Mikey is gunned execution style. Foley is motivated to solve this murder, but is ordered by his superior to stay away. Under the veil of vacation time, Foley heads off to Beverly Hills to try and piece together what bonds had to do with his friend’s murder.
Would you believe what was just described was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 1984? Me either. While probably not that deserving of said honor, the plot works just fine. No big surprises or reveals are present; early on the movie lets us know who committed the crime and even basically why. It is a little formulaic, but at the end of the day it is serviceable. Beverly Hills Cop never tries to be more than it is, which is a comedy laced with the occasional action sequence here and there.
It is obvious by now, but Eddie Murphy is the heart and soul of this movie. He does share screen time with others, but this is his movie, and the success of it was largely attributed to him and rightly so. He gets a lot of opportunity to shine as the fish out of water guy from Detroit bringing his style and imprint on a bourgeoisie Beverly Hills community. Many quotable one-liners and hilarious happenings ensue just off of Murphy’s ability to improvise off the cranium and/or go with the flow in any particular moment. And yet, when the script calls for him to be “dramatic” or the crafty action hero, he delivers in spades as well.
He gets commendable supporting help when needed though. Judge Reinhold and John Ashton are the bumbling and naive duo of Rosewood and Taggart, tasked specifically to tail Foley after he starts causing a ruckus within Beverly Hills. The chemistry these two possess is a treat, and when they finally are forced to work with Axel, it feels organic and generally pleasing to witness.
Unfortunately the rest of the cast is less than stellar. There is a female named Jenny that appears that Axel has prior history with, but something seems off between the two. Axel treats her like a friend within the script while the actress playing the part is too flirtatious. It ends up being a weird and cringe worthy co-existence throughout. It is no secret that the script underwent many rewrites after previously casted star Sylvester Stallone’s vision and the studio’s vision (read:budget) did not match, so the sexual relationship that most likely would have existed with Sly and the woman seems like it should be here, but it isn’t.
Additionally, the actress herself is pretty terrible and eventually just becomes present only for the damsel in distress role. Even the villains themselves are pretty forgettable. The acting is not egregious but the writing for these characters is. They merely exist as bad guys because they have to be with no real rhyme or reason.
Part of the reason why this movie is so beloved is because of the timeless soundtrack. It features many licensed tracks which are all great in their own right, but composer Harold Faltemeyer’s “Axel F” piece is legendary. Spawned off of a synthesizer, the theme is so simplistic yet so infectious. It really is indicative of the character and captures the feel of the 80’s effortlessly. Other modular synth tracks are amazing too and similarly composed by Faltemeyer, but none have the feeling of Axel F whenever heard.
BHC is directed by Martin Brest, noted for this and other well received works like Meet Joe Black, Scent of a Woman, and Gigli (sarcasm). He does a solid enough job with nothing overly impressive. Even if a bit dated, the action and car chases, although infrequent, are shot well enough and at least give a nostalgic aspect to how these sequences used to look. However, the editing is definitely shoddy on certain occasions. Without pausing, there are more than a few scenes that feature an obvious stunt double. Sure it is terrible, but also extremely laughable.
Definitely not flawless and antiquated in regards to generalizations, Beverly Hills Cop is still, 30 years later, a fun and lighthearted movie. In retrospect, it and 48 Hrs. did a lot to popularize the buddy cop sub-genre and serve as a template for many other like-minded films years and decades later. Any discussion about 80’s films will almost certainly include this.
Photo credits to collider.com, http://www.cinemagio.ro, youtube.com, & movies.tvguide.com
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