Skip to main content

You know, this is the cleanest and nicest police car I’ve ever been in in my life.

Beverly Hills Cop
(1984)

(SPOILERS) You could reasonably argue Eddie Murphy was a phenomenon before Beverly Hills Cop, but following the release of Martin Brest’s 1984 box office champ, the entire world now knew it. At about the same time, Bill Murray was making similar waves in Ghostbusters (no one was quoting Aykroyd and Ramis from that movie), so it must have been a particular rue to studios that both then dropped off the screen for a couple of years. With 1980s stars, in particular, there’s often a dissonance between the size of their hits and the actual quality (look no further than Tom Cruise). Murphy’s most particular skill was (and is) that he’s so damn likeable, you can almost convince yourself a middling movie was a great one. Beverly Hills Cop isn’t a great one, but a key to it working as well as it does is that it would still function as a movie – as a cop thriller – if you took its star out of it.

The same couldn’t be said for many of his later pictures that decade. Some were actively hampered by his involvement (whether The Golden Child could have been halfway decent in any context is debatable, but as a Murphy movie, it most definitely was not) and others would have/collapsed in on themselves without him propping them up (Coming to America, Harlem Nights). Scorsese, considering one of the many iterations of a screenplay that first entered development in the late 1970s, turned Beverly Hills Cop down on the basis that it was too similar to Coogan’s Bluff. Todd McCarthy, in his contemporary review (Film Year Book Volume 4), compared it to Witness, suggesting they were, “in blueprint form if not in treatment, virtually the same movie”. But this fish-out-of-water dynamic was a common one, and far from confined to the cop genre; the ’80s would score big hits several other times by playing that tune, most prolifically with Crocodile Dundee and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986 (the latter flirting with a Murphy supporting role at one stage).

Nick De Semlyen charts Beverly Hills Cop’s course in Wild and Crazy Guys, a Peter Biskind-lite account of the Saturday Night Live stars who went onto huge success in the ’80s (Biskind’s “An enjoyable romp” cover quote is about as faint praise as it gets, but it’s actually quite a fair assessment; De Semlyen offers a satisfying soufflé rather than a sumptuous three-course banquet). Most recently, it had Stallone attempting to construct his version; he was persuaded to depart the project, taking his ideas to Cobra where Axel Cobretti became Marion. And we all know what a masterpiece that was.

The alchemy of comedian and genre produced “that rarest of things: a fun movie about a cop” (compare this to the soullessly slick first sequel, a consummate Simpson and Bruckheimer production in that sense, complete with overt festishisation of its star: “The whole joke of the first movie was that Axel mocks people like that” observed less-than-impressed screenwriter Dan Petrie Jr). McCarthy referred to the original and Witness depositing their protagonists as “aliens in a foreign country, if not another world” (big city cops in an unfamiliar milieu); in Murphy’s case, this represented a “brazen assault on one of the most refined caste systems in the world” (Beverly Hills, the LA Lifestyle). De Semlyen echoes McCarthy when he suggests it’s about class: “the blue-collar hero cutting a path through a procession of straight men”.

In contrast, Pauline Kael implies such considerations are all in the mind, as far as the movie is concerned. That Murphy rulez because he decides he does: Murphy comes on as “Mr. Top Dog, Mr. Cool”, and his display of “aggressive one-upmanship through most of the film kills your interest in him as a performer”. Yes, this was an instance where Kael had the knives out, going against the grain of most reviewers. She was unimpressed by is star, who simply “rattles off pitifully undistinguished profanity” instead of jokes, and she further doubted the picture’s internal integrity, pointing to the hotel/Rolling Stone scene where “The reason is simply to get laughs for baiting whitey”. I mean, yes, it is, but it’s note-perfectly done, and more importantly very funny with it. What McCarthy characterised as “an insolent, terribly hip stand-up comedy routine” lodged at the centre of the picture.

Kael’s a killjoy about Murphy’s schtick. That hotel scene, in which Axel poses as a Rolling Stone journo, may be a non sequitur in terms of rationale, but it absolutely makes sense in terms of theme and star intent. Indeed, it’s probably the signature scene in the picture. She also swipes that “there’s no rationale for the mayhem at the end”, as if there ever needed to be for a shootout finale. She’s bang-on in terms of the broader analysis of the movie’s energy, though: “The whole picture is edited and scored as if it were a lollapalooza of laughs”. The Simpson-Bruckheimer formula had seen its first real fruit in the previous year’s Flashdance, packaging movies in a high-gloss manner that lured hopelessly enthusiastic punters. Beverly Hills Cop may not have had the flash, as such, but it was very much tailored to its star’s wattage; the shaggy dog structure is far less disciplined than Brest’s later Midnight Run, caught needing to nurse the looseness of Murphy’s improv and also the demands of its producers in furnishing an all-hits soundtrack.

Certainly, its striking in retrospect that the Detroit urban decay credits montage is disorientatingly juxtaposed with the upbeat Heat Is On. While there’s undoubtedly an investigation for Axel to engage in (not that complex a one admittedly, but straighter cop movies have worked with less), the proceedings are really structured around a series of confrontations/interactions, rather than a driving plot. With fellow (LA) cops. With villains. With local colour. Which is, again, where the soundtrack comes in. Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F is a work of deceptively simple genius, applying the glue that sustains the picture’s momentum, lends it the illusion of focus, and it’s the only aspect that can keep up with Murphy’s motormouth.

Well, almost. When Bronson Pinchot appears as gallery assistant Serge, it’s all Murphy can do not to corpse. Pinchot’s performance, armed with an extraordinarily undefined accent, is beyond camp, landing instead in some rarefied, stratospheric territory that rightly had him identified as one of the movie’s highlights. Compare his unbound, gleeful frivolity to Damon Wayans’ “Banana Man” cameo, which is simply a crude, mincing stereotype.

It’s worth pausing on this aspect of the picture, though. McCarthy comments on the absence of love interest, and Murphy would late insert a love scene into The Golden Child on the basis that the studio was uncomfortable with a black man being seen to be have sex on screen. But what’s noticeable with many of these ’80s comedies is how “protesting too much” their heroes can be when it comes to their sexual bona fides. Hence Axel’s soon-to-be-deceased best friend (James Russo) confessing “Because I love you, man” – the most intimate moment in the picture, as Mikey gazes longingly at Axel over a manly beer – and Foley referring to his boss’s “little narrow ass”, equally fondly. Axel will later pose as villain Victor Maitland’s (VD-riddled) lover in order to gain an audience with him at a restaurant. When he invites Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) to “be friends”, the safe ground for their truce is a strip club, the most stridently heterosexual domain possible.

Such concerns are absolutely the terrain of this era; Beverly Hills Cop is proudly an empty vessel, and the obsessions it nurses are entirely materialistic, ephemeral ones. Maitland is, of course, smuggling drugs (and some bearer bonds) and the picture’s genesis is the contrast between haves and have nots. Berkoff’s Maitland is a fairly unadorned villain, but he is unmistakably an aesthete, obsessed with appearances and etiquette (the actor said of Murphy “He is the perfect Brechtian… he stands outside his character and works it like a puppeteer”). (As for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, I can only assume it was an attempt to reflect the material’s popular appeal, rather than being in any way serious)

If Beverly Hills Cop’s delivery adjusts to its star and producers’ demands, the remainder of the proceedings inhabit very much the same universe as Brest’s later Midnight Run. As in, they’re stuffed to the gills with unselfconscious genre characters (with the exception of Pinchot). Most of the support play like they’re in a Walter Hill movie; Hill would quip that a 48 Hrs. sequel had already been made, prior to embarking on the actual one, and it was called Beverly Hills Cop. Ashton is on fine form as by-the-book curmudgeon Taggart (he would subsequently embrace maximum seediness in Midnight Run), while Reinhold, before plastic surgery and believing his own hype got the better of him, is a fresh-faced innocent as Billy, empowered by joys of movie killing and comparing his experiences to the same (“You know the end of Butch Cassidy”)

What’s surprising is less that Ronny Cox is cast as a nice guy (this was pre-Robocop) than that his traditional angry boss character turns out to be extremely reasonable, even offering to bring Taggart up on charges when the latter first lays into Axel. I have no recognition of Lisa Eilbacher from anything else (although I see she starred in Midnight Caller). My abiding response whenever I see ’80s Jonathan Banks (also 48 Hrs., Gremlins, Otherworld) is to wonder how he got quite so old between this and Day Break?

Beverly Hills Cop was the biggest hit of the year, of course… Almost. It arrived in December and duly whipped Ghostbusters’ titanic tally. However, neither took the crown globally. That would be a little old prequel titled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. All three of these have ongoing sequel talk, with Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Woke currently shooting and Ghostbusters: Afterlife waiting to prove it just can’t compete without Murray front and centre. As for Beverly Hills Cop IV, it was supposed to begin filming for Netflix after Murphy finished Coming 2 America. Perhaps Eddie had second thoughts in the light of the plandemic. That, and the way his Coming to America sequel sucked.


Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You have a very angry family, sir.

Eternals (2021) (SPOILERS) It would be overstating the case to suggest Eternals is a pleasant surprise, but given the adverse harbingers surrounding it, it’s a much more serviceable – if bloated – and thematically intriguing picture than I’d expected. The signature motifs of director and honestly-not-billionaire’s-progeny Chloé Zhao are present, mostly amounting to attempts at Malick-lite gauzy natural light and naturalism at odds with the rigidly unnatural material. There’s woke to spare too, since this is something of a Kevin Feige Phase Four flagship, one that rather floundered, showcasing his designs for a nu-MCU. Nevertheless, Eternals manages to maintain interest despite some very variable performances, effects, and the usual retreat into standard tropes, come the final big showdown.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

I think it’s wonderful the way things are changing.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) (SPOILERS) The meticulous slightness of Driving Miss Daisy is precisely the reason it proved so lauded, and also why it presented a prime Best Picture pick: a feel-good, social-conscience-led flick for audiences who might not normally spare your standard Hollywood dross a glance. One for those who appreciate the typical Judi Dench feature, basically. While I’m hesitant to get behind anything Spike Lee, as Hollywood’s self-appointed race-relations arbiter, spouts, this was a year when he actually did deliver the goods, a genuinely decent movie – definitely a rarity for Lee – addressing the issues head-on that Driving Miss Daisy approaches in softly-softly fashion, reversing gingerly towards with the brake lights on. That doesn’t necessarily mean Do the Right Thing ought to have won Best Picture (or even that it should have been nominated for the same), but it does go to emphasise the Oscars’ tendency towards the self-congratulatory rather than the provocat

You’re the pattern and the prototype for a whole new age of biological exploration.

The Fly II (1989) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg was not, it seems, a fan of the sequel to his hit 1986 remake, and while it’s quite possible he was just being snobby about a movie that put genre staples above theme or innovation, he wasn’t alone. Fox had realised, post- Aliens , that SF properties were ripe for hasty follow ups, and indiscriminately mined a number of popular pictures to immediately diminishing returns during the period ( Cocoon , Predator ). Neither critics nor audiences were impressed. In the case of The Fly II , though, it would be unfair to label the movie as outright bad. It simply lacks that *idea* that would justify the cash-in.