No More Falling for the Banana in the Tailpipe: The Troubled History of Beverly Hills Cop IV

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During my humble beginnings as a blogger for CosBlog, I wrote a piece about the troubled state of Eddie Murphy’s career which was followed by an update on the long delayed Beverly Hills Cop IV, the fourth installment of the action comedy franchise that turned the ex-Saturday Night Live player into an international box office superstar. Fast forward to present time as many significant developments had occurred: Script changes, an unaired TV pilot, an announced release date that got pulled, and now a pair of Belgian directors taking the director’s chair. Every announcement makes it seem like we would be getting closer to seeing Axel Foley dust off his Detroit Lions jacket and return to the place where he doesn’t belong to kick some white collar ass; however, time continues to pass by when the erratic comedy superstar keeps sticking bananas in the tailpipe like he did in the first film. The timeline of Cop IV’s development is a troubled history twenty-two years in the making:

1994 – The last time Axel Foley appeared on the big screen was Beverly Hills Cop III. Ten years prior, the first Cop film made over $250 million in the United States and made Eddie Murphy the top box office attraction. Its sequel, released in 1987, was not as financially and critically successful, but still entertained audiences worldwide. Cop III would fare the worst of the trilogy due to a changing marketplace, an underwhelming premise involving an amusement park, and the decision by Murphy to play his signature role as a mature detective rather than a fast-talking street cop. It was one of several attempts for Murphy to try and ultimately fail to reinvent his wise-ass image for the 90s. Critics were starting to write Murphy’s career obituary before The Nutty Professor remake salvaged it two years later.

1996 – Former Beverly Hills Cop I & II producer Jerry Bruckheimer was becoming a household name. He and the late Don Simpson brought big hits to Paramount Pictures in the 80s with the series as well as Flashdance and Top Gun. When the duo was ousted by the studio following the failure of Tom Cruise’s race car opus Days of Thunder, Simpson and Bruckheimer went to Disney, but could not make a hit movie for a few years. Their fortunes turned in 1995 with such global hits as Bad Boys, Crimson Tide, Dangerous Minds, and The Rock. After Simpson’s death in 1996, Bruckheimer was on his own and the hits kept on coming. The simultaneous comebacks of Murphy and producer Bruckheimer got Paramount’s wheels turning to make a new Cop film. Though Cop III failed in the US, it still managed to make back half its budget in foreign markets and proved Murphy still had appeal overseas. This lead to the idea of resurrecting Bruckheimer and Simpson’s old plan for the sequels to set Axel Foley in London and Paris in order to refresh the fish-out-of-water premise.

1999-2004 –  A number a screenwriters including John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and Jason Richman (Bangkok Dangerous) were commissioned to write the new script for Cop IV. Only one written by Dan Gordon (The Hurricane) surfaced in a script review which sounded like a strong conclusion to the series. In Gordon’s draft, Axel goes to London to avenge a close cop friend murdered by French supremacists looking to carry out a political assassination. The Billy Rosewood character played famously by Judge Reinhold sends out a rookie LA detective who reminds Axel of his younger self (possibly written for Chris Rock or Chris Tucker) and the two partner up while struggling to bond at the same time. The script review from the now defunct praised it for balancing the humor and the drama much like the original. Unfortunately, it was one of several scripts Murphy passed on. The Cop trilogy would finally make the DVD format in 2002. In the bonus extra documentaries, both Reinhold and John Ashton who played his partner Taggart expressed desires for Cop IV to get made and were prepared to answer their phones should they be asked to return.

2004 – During the press junket for Shrek 2, Murphy announced that Cop IV was dead in the water once again. It was more than about some bad blood between him and the studio that made him a star early on. With exception to his Donkey voiceover role in the Shrek films, Murphy was once again in a streak of box office flops. 2002’s Pluto Nash would be the ultimate insult to his fans and went down as the biggest bomb in history. Meanwhile, producer Bruckheimer was swimming in a pool of cash after his big gamble with 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean scored big with audiences. Now he had his attention on a much bigger tentpole franchise which put the Cop series far into his lucrative past.

2006-2009 – There was another major turnaround for Murphy and the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. He was riding high off the success and accolades he received for his dynamite performance as James ‘Thunder’ Early in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. While promoting the movie on Bravo’s Inside the Actor’s Studio, Murphy told the audience that Cop IV was still being developed due to the popularity of Axel Foley overseas and that he was determined not to have the series end with the dreadful third film. Paramount got even more serious about it in 2008 when the financial success of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gave them an injection of 80s nostalgia. A major change would soon be made, however, when Bruckheimer gave up his option to produce and the reins would be passed to ex-studio executive turned Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. He and Murphy made the spot-on decision to hire Rush Hour director Brett Ratner to helm the project and chose the writing duo of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (Wanted) using their spec script called Dying Day as the basis of the new story. Paramount announced a 2009 release date.

While Brandt and Haas worked on the script, Ratner ran his mouth in the press about maintaining the “R” rating, reinterpreting the famous “Axel F.” theme by Harold Faltermeyer, and possibly dropping the number four from the title all together. Murphy himself expressed hope of returning to the edgier roots of the first film as modern “R” rated comedies like Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin proved lucrative at the box office. In the later part of 2008, the Cop IV script was leaked by Latino Review. The Brandt/Haas draft starts with the shocking death of Billy Rosewood which is ruled a suicide. Then Axel returns to Beverly Hills to find out he was murdered by high ranked dirty LAPD cops and tries to take them down with the help of a heavy-set rookie officer written with Jonah Hill in mind. Latino Review considered this script to be the Live Free or Die Hard version of Beverly Hills Cop. Fans of the series voiced their displeasure at the death of Billy and the lack of popular supporting characters (Taggart, Bogamil, Serge) present in the story. Murphy rejected this script and demanded rewrites which delayed the 2009 release.

BHC Pilot
2011 – The entertainment website broke a story about the office gossip surrounding Cop IV. It reported about tension between Murphy and Paramount over the story direction and budget. Murphy proposed an idea involving a ship, exotic locations, big action, and less comedy. The studio executives were reluctant to set up a large budget for a fading star and the possibility of a reboot starring Tropic Thunder actor Brandon T. Jackson sounded more appealing to them. Not long after the story leaked, Murphy signed on to another long-delayed project of his, Tower Heist, and he would finally get to work with director Brett Ratner. Some may have hoped this collaboration would pay off to get Cop IV made, but around the time of  Heist’s release, Murphy dropped a bombshell: Cop IV was dead again and a new TV show was about to go into production.

2012-2013 – After years of failed attempts to get Cop IV rolling, Murphy struck a deal with Paramount, Sony TV, and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan to produce a Beverly Hills Cop television series which would revolve around Aaron Foley, the newly created son of Axel to be played by Brandon Jackson. The concept was Aaron going to Beverly Hills to break out of his famous cop father’s shadow, but still needs his help in cracking a big case. Murphy was set to reprise Axel in the pilot and be an occasional player for the rest of the run. It was conceived as a police procedural for CBS set to air in the 2013-2014 fall season. Few were excited about this idea, but it appeared to be going forward as Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld directed the pilot episode. After the pilot was finished, however, CBS to everyone’s surprise decided not to pick up the series. Though it would be shopped to other networks, the pilot never saw the light of day outside publicity photos.

Many explanations were made as to why the series failed to air. Brandon Jackson claimed it was too edgy for CBS while Shawn Ryan claimed that the network preferred other TV pilots instead. But the more likely reason was stated by Murphy who was told that the test audiences rated his on-screen presence incredibly high in the pilot. It was clear to CBS that the series could not work without Axel Foley. Yet, Murphy was not willing to commit full-time or recurring to the show. The response from the test audience, however, did not go unnoticed by Paramount.

2014 – Once again, Cop IV was announced and this time, Paramount appeared to be serious. Buddy comedies were trending again following the successes of Kevin Hart’s Ride Along and the 21 Jump Street films with Jonah Hill. Paramount set a release date of March 25, 2016, Ratner still attached as director, and the writing team of Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) to pen the new script. Adding to the excitement was news that Bruckheimer was back on as producer after Disney gave him the boot over the disastrous production of The Lone Ranger. While there was no script review posted online, the premise according to press releases stated that the Appelbaum/Nemec draft starts with Axel Foley having settled in Beverly Hills for the last several years and eventually returns to Detroit where he becomes a fish-out-of-water in his own hometown during the coldest winter on record. A tax incentive was taken out for on-location filming in Detroit and Murphy expressed excitement about returning to his iconic role in a Rolling Stone interview.

For a brief moment, it appeared that Cop IV was finally becoming a reality with all the movement being mentioned in the press. History, however, would repeat itself towards the end of 2014 when Murphy did another interview stating that the script was still not ready. Making matters worse was when Warner Bros. moved the highly anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to March 25, 2016. Even as counter-programing against the DC Comics blockbuster, there was no way Cop IV could compete. It would just be a repeat of Cop III opening against the live action Flintstones movie in 1994. Paramount quietly removed Cop IV from the March date and the project was continuing to stall.

2015 – All signs point to Murphy no longer having the heart to please his audience. In the last few years, he’s made bad movies that get dumped in theaters, skipped on hosting the Oscars, and recording reggae albums with Snoop Dogg. His most disappointing moment was his brief, awkward appearance on the SNL 40 special where he cracked no jokes or participated in any sketches. Fans and critics felt the superstar comedian who sold out arenas in the 80s had become prone to stage fright. Murphy simply considered himself semi-retired.

I began to feel like Paramount would announce a reboot/remake of Cop I because of all the delays. While it is a classic, its jokes and style are also dated. It would not surprise me if I woke up to news of a reboot starring a current hot comedian like Kevin Hart as Axel Foley or a female-centric reboot starring Leslie Jones to cash in on the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. I did not expect the recent news this week that the young Belgian writing-directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were hired to helm Cop IV with Murphy, Bruckheimer, and Appelbaum/Nemec all still attached. The duo made a critically praised indie drama called Black which was a big hit at the Toronto Film Festival. They reportedly are big fans of the original Cop film and cite it as an influence in their careers. While the news sounds exciting for the one-millionth time, Arbi and Fallah are going to have an uphill struggle to convince the once genius comedian to remove that banana from the tail pipe and stir it up again.

Will Cop IV ever see the light of day? Will Eddie get his groove back? Will a millennial (and global) audience with an appetite for new Star Wars and comic book centric film franchises flock the theaters for another 30 year old franchise in need of a massive tune-up? One thing is clear: The ship is sailing fast for the 55 year-old comedian who just recently made his dramatic turn in the soon-to-be-released Mr. Church. But he showed some signs of life at his Mark Twain Prize ceremony last year. When Murphy took the stage to accept his award, he put on a stand-up bit that reminded me of why we all fell in love with him so long ago. It was a complete turnaround from his awkward SNL 40 appearance. Perhaps that fire is still burning inside him and he’s waiting for all the right moves to be made in order to release it. Then hopefully someday before it is too late, Axel Foley will be back on screen with a new attitude and the heat will truly be back on. Trust me.

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