Beverly Hills Cop (1984) starring Eddie Murphy
What’s it about?
Eddie Murphy plays Axel Foley, a Detroit undercover cop whose unorthodox methods rub his boss up the wrong way. One night, he comes home only to be greeted by Mikey (James Russo) an old buddy from his delinquent youth who never left the wrong side of the law. While they catch up about old times he reveals that another of their friends, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), had found him a job as a security guard in Beverly Hills, and during that time he had come into possession of some bonds. After they go out for a few drinks at a local bar, they come home to find that a couple of hoods are waiting for them. Axel is knocked out cold and Mikey shot dead.
When Axel comes round his boss warns him not to get involved in investigating his old buddy’s murder. However, he decides to take some “vacation time” to head over to Beverly Hills and follow up on some leads. After speaking to Jenny - who now works as an artist - he learns that Mikey was working under a wealthy gallery owner named Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). He decides to start snooping around to find out more about Victor, who naturally doesn’t take kindly to this attention. The local cops don’t appreciate his presence in their jurisdiction either; Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox) sends Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) to tail him.
Watch a trailer:
Why is it significant?
Beverly Hills Cop was the highest grosser at the 1984 US/Canada box office, beating Ghostbusters - quite an achievement considering its child-unfriendly R rating (meaning that patrons under 17 needed to be accompanied by an adult). It also firmly established then-rising star Eddie Murphy as one of the most bankable Hollywood actors of the 1980s.
It went on to spawn two sequels: one okay (Beverly Hills Cop II in 1987) and one awful (Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994). In addition, along with Murphy’s big-screen debut 48 Hrs (1982), it helped to entrench a wider trend of comedic takes on the cop thrillers during the 1980s. These include such films as Running Scared (1986) and Fatal Beauty (1987).
How does it hold up?
Okay, so it’s formula stuff with an unashamedly cliche-ridden, predicable plot. It isn’t surprising to learn that the producers were Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who carved a sizeable niche making such cookie-cutter hits as this plus Flashdance, Top Gun and The Rock. However, it can be said that Beverly Hills Cop is a particularly fine example of a formula flick: one where all of the elements blend well together to make something an audience can sit back and effortlessly enjoy.
A big part of this is of course Murphy, who is on top form with his foul-mouthed, motor-mouthed persona here. He’s a sort of reincarnation of the blaxploitation heroes of the 1970s, but with a friendlier side as far as mainstream white audiences are concerned. Sure, he gets to rub up, dress down and fire his gun at many of the uglier examples of the white establishment, and garners plenty of laughs while doing so. However, he has a knack of ingratiating himself to the white underdog - witness how he spins a cover story for Taggart and Rosewood when they get in trouble for messing up a stakeout.
However, while it is true that Murphy is the main attraction here, there are many surrounding elements that click well. Daniel Petrie Jr’s witty script is filled with cracking lines and cleverly crafted situations, and the well-chosen supporting cast seem to be relishing them. In particular, John Ashton and Judge Reinhold are lots of fun with their Laurel and Hardy style double act as the gruff Taggart and naive Rosewood, and their ongoing rapport with Murphy has a bouncy chemistry which carries the movie a long way. Jonathan Banks (who is best known for his more recent role as Mike in Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul) almost steals the show with his mackerel-eyed stare during the limited screen time he has here as hench-villain Zack.
A fine blend of genres
Director Martin Brest keeps the mixture of comedy and action going with a fine sense of pace and tone, albeit with a bit more emphasis on the comedy side of things than on the action. That said, fans of the latter won’t feel too short-changed by the spectacularly destructive car chase at the opening, and copious gunfire at the finale. There’s just enough grit and edge here to keep the proceedings from feeling too lightweight, but not to the extent of overwhelming the humour. There’s a bit of violence and bloodshed but it’s not dwelt upon too heavily. The cinematography by Bruce Surtees (who collaborated on multiple occasions with Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood) manages to record both the urban decay of Detroit and superficial swank of Beverly Hills with equal aptitude.
Last but not least is the soundtrack, featuring an instantly memorable signature synth theme by Harold Faltermeyer, and the catchy rocker The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey. Both went on to become chart hits.
Runtime: 105 mins
Dir: Martin Brest
Script: Daniel Petrie Jr, Danilo Bach
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, James Russo, Jonathan Banks, Damon Wayans