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Beverly Hills Cop Review

Beverly Hills Cop - Eddie Murphy

RATING:
(4 STARS)

I’m not sure there’s ever been a clearer case a film being carried by the charisma of its star than Beverly Hills Cop. This is Eddie Murphy’s film from beginning to end – something that sort of came about by accident.

Originally conceived of and written as a dark and gritty Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Eddie Murphy was brought in to salvage the project just two weeks prior to the start of filming. None of it made a lick of sense for Murphy, so the skeleton of the story was kept, and he was given a long leash to improvise his way through the thing. For a character like Axel Foley, whose whole m.o. when it comes to policing is improv, you can’t dream of a better way to bring him to the screen. The best movies are sometimes the ones with the most luck, and Beverly Hills Cop is one of the best movies.

Foley is a Detroit PD detective who likes to ask for forgiveness, not permission. We meet him in the middle of an undercover operation trying to unload a truck full of cigarettes to some unsavory dudes. But he hasn’t cleared any of this, and the cops end up dropping in and causing a wild chase across the city – much to the chagrin of his hardass superior, Inspector Todd (Gil Hill).

Shortly after this introduction, we pick up the plot proper with the introduction of Axel’s good friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), who is fresh out of prison and in possession of some sketchy German bearer bonds. Before Axel has a chance to ask much more about them, he’s knocked unconscious, and Mikey is murdered.

Despite orders from Todd to not get involved, Foley jumps in headfirst, travels to California, and starts shaking things up at the Beverly Hills PD. Those officers include Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox), who treats the rulebook like the Bible, and Sgt. Taggart (John Ashton) and Det. Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who are assigned to tail Foley and make sure he doesn’t create too much chaos in their jurisdiction. Slowly but surely, they eventually realize Foley might be on to something with his suspicion of Tandino’s employer, art magnate Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff).

It’s easy enough to forget (or not even know if you’re in your mid-twenties or younger) that Eddie Murphy was once unrivaled in terms of his Hollywood approval rating. He did everything – movies, TV, stand-up, and more – and he did it all brilliantly. Beverly Hills Cop didn’t make Murphy per se, but it did catapult him to a new level of stardom – kind of like Tom Cruise with Top Gun a few years later.

Watching Beverly Hills Cop now is like catching up with an old friend who you’ve fallen out of contact with for years. It just feels effortless. Everyone in the film plays their part perfectly. Murphy is a supernova, and he’s surrounded by smaller planets and moons, whose orbits are defined and they never veer off track. Nobody in this film is trying to rival Murphy. (OK, maybe Bronson Pinchot, but he’s only in two scenes.) They know they’re in an Eddie Murphy comedy, and they seem delighted to be in an Eddie Murphy comedy.

Most of the primary secondary characters (if that makes sense) get a chance to expand their respective characterizations a bit in the film’s sequel, but it’s only because they play things so brilliantly down the middle here. The only exception is Lisa Eilbacher as the film’s only major female character, Axel’s friend Jenny Summers, and her absence is regrettable. There’s no romance between the two (you’ll find A LOT written about that around the web), but she’s a very easygoing presence on screen.

Martin Brest directed the film, and his limited career is loaded with some major ups (ex: Midnight Run) and downs (ex: Gigli), but Beverly Hills Cop goes firmly in the former category because he knows to stay the fuck out of the way. This movie is anonymously directed, which is smart because it has one of the best comedic performances ever, an outstanding supporting cast, and a killer score and soundtrack, and it doesn’t need much else. We’ll get some flourish with Beverly Hills Cop II, and a lot of it works, but it’s not flawless.

If Beverly Hills Cop has a fault, it’s … no, Beverly Hills Cop doesn’t have a fault. This is one of the best comedy films of all time, and sure, the actual mystery of the film isn’t all that engaging, but it doesn’t need to be. Any more plot, and you lose some of the free-wheeling-ness that elevates the film from very good to truly excellent. Anyone under the impression it’s just a relic of its time like so many other action comedies of the 80s would be painfully mistaken. It’s a total knockout.

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