People of my generation, born in the mid 1980s have a problem when it comes to Eddie Murphy. To many of us born too late to enjoy his 80s heyday the first time around, he’s that annoying guy who pops up every couple of years to play every character in an awful movie. This is a shame because recently I saw a film which changed my opinion of the Spice Girl bothering, fat suit wearing funny man. That film was Beverly Hills Cop. I’d recorded the film when it was on T.V. so long ago that trailers for Django Unchained were running in the ad breaks but don’t know why I did. I can’t ever remember enjoying an Eddie Murphy performance and never expected to. Well, now I have.
Alex Foley (Murphy) is a wisecracking, talented but reckless young cop from Detroit. When his friend is murdered in front of him, against the express orders of his superiors, he tracks the case to Beverly Hills where he begins to investigate the murder while getting under the noses of the Beverly Hills P.D., especially Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton) and Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold). Slowly Foley uncovers a major smuggling operation and gets his more conservative and by the book colleagues on side as he does so.
The movie opens with a title credits sequence which reminded me of a cross between a Grandmaster Flash video and the titles of Dog Day Afternoon. The sequence has the same grand tour aspect of the Pacino-Lumet film but the run down, inner city feeling of Grandmaster Flash’s video for The Message. The Detroit opening also contained that beauty in decay look which I love so much. Following the titles there is a brief skit about a cigarette deal in which it appears that Eddie Murphy is a crook. This is followed by a fantastic car chase which was much bigger in scale than I expected from the movie. It then becomes apparent that Murphy’s Foley was acting undercover, without the consent of his Lieutenant. The entire opening ten minutes from studio title card until the end of the chase had me transfixed and set me up for an enjoyable 100 minutes, the likes of which I honestly wasn’t expecting.
For me Beverly Hills Cop isn’t full of great comedy but it has some absolutely killer lines and hilarious scenes. These are few and far between but memorable when they come around. Although I didn’t laugh often, I laughed enough and when I wasn’t laughing, I was still enjoying myself. Murphy is pretty good as the gifted cop and the character is very likeable. He has an everyman quality to him and the costume makes him feel like an average guy in an extraordinary situation. This is something which also worked very well for Die Hard a few years later. Eddie Murphy is surrounded by a capable cast of cops, henchmen and various other side characters but always remains the focus of attention. I thought that Judge Reinhold created a good double act with Murphy and Ronny Cox made for a great Police Lieutenant but no one else really stood out. The bad guys are mostly forgettable and the chief baddie (Steven Berkoff) makes little impact. There is little in the way of female character development with Lisa Eilbacher providing the only female voice and she is used primarily as bait for Murphy to try and rescue.
The plot isn’t bad but it does nothing new or original besides perhaps featuring a black central character. Foley travels to L.A. and gets embroiled in a smuggling operation while the local cops get sick of his interfering. As plots go its fine but the characters and dialogue expand it into something much more enjoyable. There are a few flaws in the story but overall it’s pretty accomplished. The screenplay was actually Oscar nominated and I don’t begrudge it that. It’s hardly ground breaking but its fun and the dialogue is snappy. The main draw though is the central character. Foley has the sort of cheeky underdog personality of some of Chaplin or Cagney’s most memorable roles and this makes him both affable and funny. You route for him because he’s a little bit like you. He’s a bit anti establishment and on your side but he’s also the hero. Add this to Eddie Murphy’s fast talking; overly cool, smiley personality and you have a winner.
Alongside Murphy, one of the highlights for me was the excellent soundtrack, spearheaded by the funky and unmistakable Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer. I’ve known the song for years but never placed it with the film. Now the title makes sense! Its electronic synth pop beats are uncontrollably feet tapping and the music works perfectly with the film. The Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance also makes an appearance and like Axel F, it fits brilliantly. The whole soundtrack has a distinctive mid 80s electro feel which sounds ace and works well. The OST for Beverly Hills Cop is a rare example of one I’d actually like to buy.
Beverly Hills Cop has pretty much everything you’d want from a comedy and from a film in general. It’s watchable, has a great central character, a bit of intrigue, some killer lines, cool stunts, a car chase and is just funny enough. Ideally I’d have liked a few more laughs but who can say what has been lost in translation in the last thirty years. It’s allowed me to appreciate Eddie Murphy in a whole new light and made me want to seek out more of his early work. It’s an entertaining, great sounding, fun film which I should have watched a long time ago.
- It became the highest grossing film in the US in 1984 and was the 2nd highest worldwide. It remained the highest grossing R Rated film until The Hangover overtook it in 2009.
- Sylvester Stallone was originally cast as Alex Foley but pulled out two weeks before filming began. Mickey Rourke and Al Pacino were also considered for the role before Eddie Murphy was cast.
- The script became a collage over a dozen previous incarnations and huge rewrites were needed following Stallone's departure.. Murphy improved many lines to piece things together.
- David Cronenberg was asked to direct but turned the job down.