Skip to main content

You know they don’t give out Oscars in prison?


Beverly Hills Cop III
(1994)

I wasn’t sure I’d ever made it all the way through Beverly Hills Cop III before. But some sequels are so awful, all that remains is an amorphous memory of their fundamental shitness (Robocop 3, Highlander 2: The Quickening). So I thought, best be certain; give it another chance. But, my God, it stinks.


The first sequel to the 1984 phenomenon that really put Eddie Murphy on the map had already experienced diminishing returns but, by inflation adjusted (and worldwide gross) standards, it remains his second most successful non-animated movie. Understandably, ideas had been knocking about for a trilogy-forming addition for some time. Most popular was sending Axel Foley to London. All the regulars would have returned (John Astin as Taggart, Judge Reinhold as gun nut Rosewood, Ronny Cox as Bogomolil) and the plot would have involved Foley rescuing Bogomil from terrorists. Yes, Axel would succumb to the post-Die Hard action movie formula. Possible pairings with Sean Connery and John Cleese were mooted for Foley’s sojourn in Blighty (I can’t imagine Murphy really sparking off either, but at least the producers were spitballing). Terrorists became London gangsters, and Paul Reiser’s Jeffrey was set to buy the farm (Reiser was good at dying in movies around this time).


For various reasons, that concept fell apart (ultimately it seems that producers Simpson and Bruckheimer thought there were too many similarities to Black Rain). A retooling of the same basic concept in New York was briefly considered before the uber-producers exited over budget disputes. Joel Silver then flirted with taking the producer reins but the dreaded budget wrangling saw him depart too. And so Mace Neufield and Robert Rehme ended up shepherding Beverly Hills Cop III to the screen. They were in Paramount’s good books thanks to the cash cow of the Jack Ryan franchise. But the budget concerns didn’t go away.


Back in the early ‘90s Murphy had pretty much fallen from grace. Harlem Nights was a costly and disappointing vanity project which, while no means a financial debacle of the scale of Bruce Willis’ ego-strewn Hudson Hawk a couple of years later, had put a serious dent in Eddie’s stride. He followed it with lazy sequels (Another 48 Hrs) and a series of attempts to try something different. Neither Boomerang nor The Distinguished Gentleman are bad movies (indeed, they’re far superior to much of his feted ‘80s product), but the returns were at best middling. The star was barely 30, but with a decade behind him as a huge draw it seemed like he was already on the wane. In the near distance was the rediscovery of his comic mojo (The Nutty Professor), but there and then Paramount had serious misgivings at throwing money at a star who might not attract sizable audiences. And Axel was very ‘80s, as his signature Harold Faltermeyer theme attests (the music here, from Nile Rodgers, is listless and inappropriate).


So Steven E. de Souza was hired to pen a new script. He seemed to know his action, and had proved his worth with two Die Hard movies (and Another 48Hrs). Looking at his subsequent resume, the studio might have thought twice, but that was then. Quite why “Die Hard at a theme park” was seized upon is anyone’s guess. A dearth of imagination most likely. Foley didn’t need to be derivative, he needed to be his own thing (whatever that was; it is sort of nebulous). Robert Towne had worked on previous screenplay ideas, which again suggests the studio didn’t really have a keen idea of what the character was all about.


Various directors were considered; Towne, purportedly (why they’d give him a broad action franchise is anyone’s guess; perhaps it’s a confusion over his story involvement), Joe Dante (great director, but not him at all) and Kevin Hooks (a safer pair of hands perhaps; no real flair, but he had solid action chops and had delivered a minor sub-Die Hard hit with Passenger 57). But then John Landis was got the offer.


Landis has commented that Murphy may well have suggested him as an apology/olive branch over their falling out on Coming to America. On the face of it, the director might not seem such a strange choice; the Landis of the big, broad, freewheeling destruction derby pile-ups of The Blues Brothers at any rate. But the John Landis of Beverly Hills Cop III is borderline incompetent. Like, Kevin Smith incompetent. It’s as if he has never directed a movie before. Shots are static, the staging is leaden, the editing almost aggressively disinterested in producing thrills or narrative momentum. He brought with him his Oscar and Innocent Blood cinematographer Mac Ahlberg, who worked out fine on the later Brady Bunch movies; his textureless blocks of colour aren’t a problem in “straight” comedy vehicles (few funny movies get raves for their photography, which may be an error in the thinking of filmmakers, but it’s an understandable one if attention is seen to be on yuks). Here, it’s a disaster.  BHCIII looks like a cheap and nasty TV movie, one with an in-network director less interested in the “art” of what he’s doing than ensuring he knocks off at a decent hour.


So it beggars belief that during the shoot costs inflated so much, Paramount took the step of closing down the production. The picture had already taken a budget cut due to Murphy’s diminished standing (he still took home $15m, a third of what the movie ended up grossing), and finished up costing more than $70m (it had been slashed to $55m, so ended up tallying with what de Souza’s screenplay was originally budgeted at). None of that is up there on screen.


Originally rides were supposed to be built for Wonder World (the theme park in the movie), but filming took place at California’s Great America theme park (then owned by Paramount). You’d be forgiven for wondering why anyone would go there. Adapted rides included the Earthquake ride from the Universal Tours (complete with Cylons). I don’t know how popular Great America is, but Landis makes it look semi-deserted (there isn’t a single scene in the film with any care take over it).  When he attempts to shoot an action scene the results are sleep inducing, painful to behold (Axel saves some kids from a malfunctioning ride; it seems to take hours) or resoundingly inept (the climactic showdown(s)). A similar collapse of a once-great (as in making great movies, rather than being the most proficient in the field) director’s career occurred a couple of years later when John Carpenter brought back Snake Plissken. But that film seems Oscar-worthy next to this.


The plot, what there is of it, involves a private security firm running a counterfeiting ring under the guise of the park. Yeah, it’s a stretch by any standards. Axel comes to California to track down whoever shot his boss (an enfeeble motivation following a not dissimilar set up for II). There’s little detective work here; he shows up at Wonder World and it’s immediately obvious that nefarious forces are up to no good. The big villain is Timothy Carhart’s Ellis De Wald; Carhart’s a reliable bad guy in various big and small screen fare, but he has little to work with. The same goes for John Saxon. Theresa Randle’s the not-so-very-much love interest (there’s never much of that in a Murphy film, as with Vin Diesel). Stephen McHattie makes an impression as a Fed, but he’s well-versed in making the best of bullshit.


Such were the production delays that neither Ashton nor Cox returned, a blessing in disguise for both of them. Reinhold is left to wax nostalgically, and he’s game. But the whole affair is so devoid of care that his enthusiasm is for nought. Hector Elizondo, a very likable performer, assumes Ashton’s role (basically they substituted names). There is one other returnee; Bronson Pinchot’s Serge is back for two scenes. There’s so much care in the script department that he’s forsaken hairdressing for arms dealing (with a really cheesy monster gun called The Annihilator 2000). As forced as his involvement is, his are the only scenes that remind you of the BHC of old. You can see him having fun riffing on whatever comes into his head, in particular his tale of colonic irrigation and “a candy bar you ate when you were five coming out”. If Murphy isn’t really engaging with him, it’s because he wasn’t even there for those scenes.


Murphy looks like he can't be arsed, but apparently it’s more complicated than that. The light was gone at the time. Pinchot relates how Murphy was so lacklustre that Landis played opposite him in the scene. Worse, it seems this lack of fun was intentional; he told Landis Axel was an adult now, so he shouldn’t act the wiseass. If you take away that core ingredient of the character, you’re left with nothing. And it shows from the start. I’m not sure Murphy commands a single laugh (okay, “You know they don’t give out Oscars in prison?” made me smile). Even when he arrives on stage for his Cary Grant in North By Northwest improvisation, to a crowded gala event, he’s subdued. Eddie in an elephant suit ought to raise a smile, but he – and we – is bereft.  


Landis says he saw the chance to comment on Disney and violence. I can see the Disney bit with the tired and tiresome Uncle Dave (Alan Young), who owns Wonder World, but whatever commentary he thinks he’s making falls flat (unless it’s something as dementedly exaggerated as Disneyworld being a haven for murder, counterfeiting rings and all-round corruption… ) And where the violence bit comes in… I’m mystified. Although, you do notice the typical Landis splatter. Like the swearing, it stands out because the presiding vibe is of a limp kid’s Saturday afternoon matinee. The dance number during the chop shop opening informs you his bearings are massively off; it may work in The Blues Brothers, but it’s too random and undisciplined to be endearing here.


I liked seeing a couple of The Banana Splits, but even the inevitable director cameos lacked fizz (George Lucas and a best-not-try-cameoing-again Joe, Dante being the most memorable). Landis readily admits the script wasn’t great but thought that, with Murphy on board, they could make something solid out of it; then he found Murphy wasn’t interested in being Eddie any more. Maybe the director’s interest subconsciously ebbed away as a result. He needed more of the actually funny stuff, like DeWald sitting a cohort of underprivileged kids at his gala table to show what a nice guy he is. But it needed that kind of funny stuff times 100.


Beverly Hills Cop III is probably the worst movie of both Landis and Murphy’s careers (I’m hesitant to say for definite; there’s Norbit, Best Defense and Blues Brothers 2000 to consider). It’s no surprise that possibilities for IV have been knocking around for years with few overly interested in biting. The Disneyfication of Eddie seemed to have fully put paid to any chance of the Axel spirit being revived. But then, in Tower Heist, he was actually R-rated funny again. Brett Ratner is a horrible choice for most movies, but he might have been a good fit for the announced fourth installment, to be shepherded once again by Bruckheimer. It looked the movie was permanently off when the TV pilot happened this year, with Murphy cameoing and Brandon T Jackson as Axel’s son. CBS passed on it, and then it looked like it might be shopped elsewhere. Jackson thought it was nixed as a series because it was too edgy. Whatever the reason, something about it must have caught Paramount’s attention as they announced the big screen fourth was back on after all. I’d like to see it happen, despite my reservations about how Murphy would tackle the role. If nothing else, he gave the right reasons in 2006 when he said another was needed because, after III, he “didn’t want to leave the series like that”.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.