The Mother Brain Files: The Beverly Hills Cop Trilogy

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The Mother Brain Files: The Beverly Hills Cop Trilogy
By Mother Brain

April 3rd of this year marked Eddie Murphy’s 50th birthday. In celebration of the superstar actor/comedian’s milestone, I’ll be reviewing the franchise that brought him huge fame and success all over the world: Beverly Hills Cop. Of the many film roles and Saturday Night Live sketches he did, Murphy’s Detective Axel Foley character is the one he’s most identified with much like Sean Connery with James Bond and Sylvester Stallone with Rocky. Even Harold Faltermeyer’s synth driven “Axel F” can be put into the list of memorable movie themes with Monty Norman’s James Bond theme and the Rocky theme by Bill Conti. The character was best known for not only his street-smart approach to solving big cases but also his ability to con his way into anything or anybody just to get the job done while usually ruffling the feathers of book-smart cops in Beverly Hills. I think people identified with the character so much because of his blue collar attitude towards not only the establishment but also the glamorous town filled with white collar villains.

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Now instead of writing full reviews of the films, I’ll be adding my own repeated viewing experiences of each of them while adding little bits of trivia along the way. Trust me!

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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Although I had spoiled myself watching the ending on television sometime in the early 90s, the very first time I saw the original was in 8th grade when I purchased this and Cop II on VHS. From beginning to end, Eddie Murphy is in control of the wheel. When the jokes hit the screen, it’s like Mike Tyson’s fist landing at your gut. But with the exception of the Palm Hotel scene, most of the humor is class-driven. Among the scenes that define that direction is the Harrow Club sequence when blue collar Detroit cop Axel arrives in his beat up Chevy Nova dressed in a shirt with jeans and sneakers, then plays off as the bad guy’s gay lover to trick the maître d into entering the club so he can humiliate the villains. Murphy was always at his best creating impressions which he does a lot of in this film and much credit has to be given to director Martin Brest for creating enough visual space for him to improvise while also having to balance the comedy with Walter Hill-esque action sequences. Ironically enough, the film was originally intended for Sylvester Stallone who wanted to use the script as a way to introduce his Cobra character and make it more action driven which turned off producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. The super producing duo behind Top Gun wanted to work with Murphy so badly that Stallone was talked out of the film and he wound up bringing his version of the character to life in the 1986 disaster, Cobra.

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The film is also so rich in characters from by the book cops turned allies Rosewood and Taggart (Judge Reinhold and John Ashton), no nonsense Beverly Hills Lieutenant Bogamil (Ronny Cox), the scene stealing gay art gallery worker Serge (a pre-Perfect Strangers Bronson Pinchot), and early film roles for Paul Reiser and Damon Wayans. But it’s also Steven Berkoff as the drug smuggling art dealer Victor Maitland that plants the film one foot in reality so that the physical jeopardy of the Axel Foley character feels more dangerous and real. While some may feel that the film is long since dated, the original set the tone for the series, turned in a dynamite performance for Murphy while developing surprising chemistry between him, Reinhold, and Ashton. Like Riggs and Murtaugh with Lethal Weapon, the relationship between those three characters would be the heart of the series.

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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A kid in my school had brought a VHS recording of the CBS broadcast of Cop II to school one day and we watched the first 30 minutes at lunchtime. So I didn’t get to see the whole complete movie until it was on HBO one evening. I must say that having seen Coming to America before any other Murphy movie, it was odd for me to hear him speak in his regular voice especially since I was too young to watch the concert movies he did. While Cop II was a big hit financially, it was more critically panned than the original. Personally, I like this film more than the original. Aside from the MTV style action of director Tony Scott which would be mimicked greatly by Michael Bay with the Bad Boys films, I love the race against time concept of Axel trying to stop the Alphabet Bandits before they hit their prime targets in the city. I never feel like time is wasted throughout the movie. Then there’s the partnership between Axel, Rosewood, and Taggart who have turned into a Three Musketeers-Style trio in stopping the bad guys to avenge the near-fatal shooting of Bogamil. I like how they expand on Rosewood being a weapons freak and practically adapting Axel’s personality into his own while Taggart tends to be more cautious and often grumpy, only getting pulled into the action unwillingly. Murphy still remains funny and slightly more wise-ass than the first film. Now he’s conning his way into stealing mansions and getting access to the Playboy Mansion! My favorite part is when he goes into the shooting club and tricks the secretary into thinking he’s delivering explosives while managing to take $20 from her just to go away.

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As Scott was put into a spot where he had to continue where Martin Brest left off in establishing the original characters, he also added his own aesthetics into it like the casting of 6 foot beauty Bridgette Nielsen as the main henchwoman, a white Grace Jones with big guns no pun intended. Not the greatest actress but her looks fit perfectly in Scott’s vision and the two would ironically engage in an off-camera affair which led to Nielsen’s divorce from her at the time husband: Sylvester Stallone! The villain, oil tycoon Max Dent, is played by Jurgen Prochnow of Das Boot and Dune. Visually, he’s made to look more dangerous and imposing than Victor Maitland, often photographed in dark shadows filled with smoke. I do think Scott dropped the ball a bit by not making him physically imposing for Axel. He gets killed very easily at the end which I think is one of the film’s flaws. Overall, it’s pure fun entertainment and I never find myself getting bored watching it whenever it pops up on cable.

Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

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The way I will look at the weakest of the trilogy is by providing some backstory on what went wrong. Cop III was supposed to be out as early as 1989 when producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer commissioned for scripts where Axel would fight crime in London (with a new partner to be played either by John Cleese or Sean Connery). But after the failure of the Tom Cruise racing flick, Days of Thunder, the producing duo was booted off the Paramount lot and their involvement with Cop III was void. So Murphy approves of the theme park angle by Die Hard screenwriter Steven DeSouza, talks Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver into producing, and Coming to America director John Landis to direct; however, Murphy’s box office track record was on the decline and Paramount wanted the budget slashed which resulted in delays, Silver off the project, and a more scaled down version of the script (The first draft included Axel’s niece as the reason for going to the park, bigger action scenes in the park, and more action on the streets of Beverly Hills). Even when it’s all said and done, Landis thought that with a bad script, Murphy could make it funny with his improv skills. But this was Eddie Murphy post-Boomerang and he was looking to be in the same dramatic action hero league as Wesley Snipes.
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So the Cop III we wound up getting was a depressed Murphy playing a super serious Axel Foley in a setting that he doesn’t belong in. The magic was completely gone. Taggart and Bogamil were out, Rosewood gets scaled down, and the heavy use of blue screen took away from the movie. Nile Rodgers of Chic does a good job modernizing the “Axel F.” theme for the 90s; yet, his choice in going more orchestral made the film feel out of place with the previous two. The only real high points were the addition of Theresa Randle as the romantic interest that Axel desperately needed (Lisa Elibacher’s Jenny Summers from Cop I was written for that spot when it was set to star Stallone), the return of Serge as an exotic gun dealer, and the opening action sequence in the chop shop which was the most dramatic of the trilogy. Once again, the film drops the ball on the villains with Timothy Carhart as the park security leader, Ellis De Wald. There was potential to make him work because he was an ex-cop and could outsmart Axel and be a physical match for him. But Carhart made him too wooden and stiff. Just another one-dimensional bad guy because of him.

Now the big question is will be a Beverly Hills Cop 4? See my older blog about that topic.

The Mother Brain Files: Eddie Murphy Follow-Up

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