Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer Screen: Beverly Hills Cop Saturday

One of the biggest movie stars from the 80's and 90's I haven't talked about much around here is Eddie Murphy.  The former stand up comedian turned Saturday Night Live regular turned box office star turned animated voice actor's films have racked up an impressive $6 billion dollars in worldwide receipts.  Like other stars of the time who commanded a certain niche and accompanying salary reaching $20 million, Murphy took on writing and producing duties to help control his own destiny.  Adjusting for inflation, Murphy has 24 $100 million dollar earners to his name in the United States with Coming to America, Trading Places and The Golden Child among my personal favorites.  Franchise wise, Murphy has been a part of 3: Shrek, The Nutty Professor and Beverly Hills Cop.  The latter series has recently been announced for a sequel 20 years after the last installment as Murphy's career, like any that spans 3 decades, needs a little juice.  A TV pilot featuring Murphy and his character's son was recently not picked up.  With all 3 Beverly Hills Cops films buried in my DVD collection but newly on Netflix, they made for a fun trip down memory lane as I worked out, cleaned up and relaxed through the week with Murphy's signature role that's not an animated donkey; iconic Detroit cop Axel Foley.

Early incarnations of BHC saw Mickey Rourke offered the role and being paid $400,000 for a holding deal that expired before the script was ready.  Murphy was the favorite choice for super producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer but Paramount offered the role to Oscar winning box office champ Sylvester Stallone.  Sly took the script to tailor it to his sensibilities and returned a draft of Cop that was light on comedy and heavy on action.  Originally set for a budget of $14 million, Stallone's revisions turned it into a $20 million dollar affair that Paramount was not ready to bankroll.  Stallone walked, took his ideas and turned them into Cobra, the awesome cop versus cult action-slasher flick released in 1986.  Young director Martin Brest helmed the pioneering action-comedy that follows Alex Foley, a wise talking, street smart former criminal turned Detroit police officer.  When an old friend shows up fresh from a stint in jail followed by some work in Beverly Hills and gets killed, Foley heads out west to find out what his buddy was into.  From there it's fish out of water, hilarious improv, rich versus poor, black versus white, fancy pants, banana in the tailpipe, rough and tumble comedy mixed with action and a detective story set to an unforgettable synth score by Harold Faltermeyer.

Murphy's quick mouthed Foley is without a doubt the star and backbone of the flick but supporting players Judge Reinhold and John Ashton as the straight laced Beverly Hills officers Billy Rosewood and John Taggart, who are tasked with escorting Foley out of town but end up getting caught up in the caper are a terrific duo. Ronny Cox, Paul Reiser, real life police officer Gil Hill and Bronson Pinchot round out a fantastic supporting cast of familiar faces and memorable performances as screaming superiors, skeezy sidekicks and a near incomprehensible Beverly Hills art dealer.  Steven Berkhoff's European art dealer who's actually smuggling drugs villain is probably one of the first of it's kind that would later be perfected by Alan Rickman's smooth thief posing as a terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard.  I'm sure the movie had theaters roaring back in 84 but watching it now, Beverly Hills Cop is entertaining more than it is laugh out loud funny.  The music plays a big part as right away, Glenn Frey's catchy tune "The Heat Is On" blares over a blown deal and ensuing car/truck chase letting you know that we're in for a fast and funny good time.  Faltermeyer's techno-pop, synthesizer score and Axel F. theme mark the flick specifically 80's and along with Blade Runner, Rocky IV and anything by John Carpenter makes you wish it were still around a little more today.  Beverly Hills Cop went on to be 1984's highest grossing film and the most successful R-rated film for over 20 years. 

After an attempt for a Beverly Hills Cop television show was squashed by star Eddie Murphy, a sequel to the smash hit was put into production and released in 1987.  Directed by Tony Scott, hot off the mega-success of Simpson and Bruckheimer's Top Gun, BHC II is a bigger, more polished production that shows a virtuoso's touch in crafting a big, Hollywood style summer movie that's humorous yet exciting.  Part II opens with a jewelry store robbery in Beverly Hills pulled off by a professional if not shy crew of thieves.  Cut to Detroit where Axel is still working undercover on the street, dealing with unsavory types and using his big mouthed bravado to talk criminals into making deals with a cop.  Back in BH, Ronny Cox's top cop Andrew Bogomil is fighting a losing battle with his new superior that's cleaning out the division with only himself, Rosewood and Taggart still around.  After Bogomil gets too close on a case dealing with the thieves, an attempt on his life is made and he ends up in the hospital.  Foley heads back to Beverly Hills to find out what's going on and drags the reluctant Rosewood and Taggart along to find the guilty party.  Virtual Reality Gun club, Ferrari crashing, golf pants, Playboy Mansion, Brigitte Neilsen, Rambo and Dirty Harry references, plants, turtles, Chris Rock's first film appearance, shotguns and former crook teaching cops street tips with gum and super glue shenanigans ensues.

While Stallone might not have fit the profile for what Beverly Hills Cop was meant to be, I think he would have done just fine in part II.  The film benefits from the increased budget and experienced director as Scott gives everything a great smoky yet shiny feel and takes us around Beverly Hills to exclusive, high-tech gun clubs, mansions, landmarks and action movie hallmark locations like warehouses and deserted pseudo military installations.  The action is dialed up for the sequel as the thieves knock off a jewelry store, bank depository, horse track, etc, a cringe inducing, crashing armored car chase and shootouts galore.  Murphy's fast paced, in your face, can't keep up wise cracking is also on display in scenes where he commandeers an under construction mansion from confused contractors and walks into a private office by pretending to be carrying sound sensitive explosive ammunition.  While part I dealt with drugs, II is all about guns being run by the pocked and granite faced Jurgen Prochnow as a shadowy weapons dealer who employs the tall and striking Brigitte Neilsen as his henchwoman/ringleader.  Reinhold's Rosewood has become an eco-friendly gun nut while Ashton's Taggart is dealing with his wife leaving him.  The music again plays a critical part of the film's tone and pace with Faltermeyer returning to synth duties along with another vocal hit, Shakedown with Bob Seger.  Weirdly, some of the place holder music sounded a lot like John Carpenter's work in Big Trouble In Little China...Anticipation was huge and Beverly Hills Cop II netted a whopping $33 million dollar opening weekend making it the biggest debut of the year.

In the early 90's, Paramount finally got serious about a third installment to the series but producers Simpson and Bruckheimer passed when they thought the proposed budget and timeline wouldn't equate a film equal to it's predecessors.  Fellow 90's super producer Joel Silver, who had worked with Murphy on 48 Hours, was sought to shepherd the project but too balked at the studio's rushed release date and reluctance to spend.  Coming off the so-so performance of The Distinguished Gentlemen, Murphy was paid $15 million to reprise the role of Axel Foley.  Coming to America and Trading Places director John Landis was brought in to direct and a "Die Hard in an amusement park" esque script was churned out.  Beverly Hills Cop III starts in Detroit with Foley working undercover to buy some chopped cars when his superior, the foul mouthed, screaming and degrading yet supportive Inspector Todd gets shot and killed by the lily white Ellis de Wald.  Foley tracks de Wald back to Los Angeles where we learn de Wald is head of a private police force that works out of Wonder World, a Disneyland style park where they're printing fake money under a closed attraction.

Beverly Hills Cop III is goofy.  Like almost embarrassingly goofy.  The settings just feel generic from the opening chop shop to Billy's new fancy office in Beverly Hills to Wonder World, it all just smacks of rushed flimsiness.  Even with a rumored budget of $55 to $70 million and a director with some great titles to his credit like The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London, Cop III plays like a parody of it's former self.  Kind of the same way that troubled production Tango & Cash was so uneven in tone and goofy with the gun boots, huge machine guns and RV from hell but still managed to be a good time.  That kind of shtick shows up here in the form of The Annihilator 2000, a luxury machine gun with net launcher, night vision goggles, cell phone and TV included that Foley obtains through a forced sequence with part I's Serge, who's traded in art dealing for gun selling...It's said that Murphy was in a bit of a funk at the time and didn't want Foley to be funny.  With 7 years passing since part II, the star figured the character should have grown up a bit and wouldn't be the same guy from 10 years ago in the original Beverly Hills Cop.  Kind of like Die Hard where the same shit keeps happening to the same guy so he can't exactly be unaffected by it all right? 

While it's not unwatchable, BHC III isn't exactly something you'd pop in on a lazy Sunday, either.  You do have a low-watt cast backing Foley up with Judge Reinhold back as buddy Billy Rosewood but is mostly relegated to over the top reactions and getting tangled up in random things.  Stephen McHattie aka the Canadian Lance Henriksen shows up as a shady Federal Agent who may or may not be on Axel's side then Enter The Dragon's John Saxon puts his time in as a mastermind behind the counterfeit money operation.  Director Landis peppers the film with filmmaker cameos as George Lucas, Joe Dante and John Singleton among many others show up for quick scenes.  The action is uneven with hand to hand scenes much better than they were in II and some harrowing, physical antics involving Foley jumping from car to car on a moving Ferris Wheel intercut with some really spotty shot in studio, CGI shots of Murphy for close ups.  Harold Faltermeyer elected not to return but his signature theme music is used throughout and even gets an orchestral take that is familiar and rousing at the same time.  Hitting theaters in May of 1994, Beverly Hills Cop opened to a not great $12 million on it's way to a $42 million take, way down from the first's $234 million and sequel's $153 million domestic totals.  Let's see what part IV has in store for us in 2016...

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