Beverly Hills Cop: Action-Comedy Blueprint


Not long ago there was a story about a fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie being planned. I don’t think anyone greeted the news with enthusiasm, but there was definitely a time when Eddie Murphy was sitting on top of the world, as Rolling Stone Magazine once put it. In 1984, Murphy was already a big-time movie star thanks to the success of 48HRS. (1982) and Trading Places (1983); Beverly Hills Cop became his third hit and by far his biggest. The film also pretty much defined the concept of action-comedies for years to come.

When we first meet Axel Foley (Murphy), he’s working as an undercover cop in Detroit, great at his job but constantly finding new ways of landing himself in trouble. When an old friend of his, Mikey (James Russo), comes to town for a visit, a night out ends tragically when Mikey is murdered in cold blood. Axel’s boss tells him to stay out of the investigation, but he takes some time off and goes to Beverly Hills where Mikey worked for Victor Maitland, an art dealer. Axel visits Maitland in his office to learn more about what Mikey was doing for him, but is thrown out by Maitland’s thugs and promptly arrested by the Beverly Hills police department. Axel is impressed by the clean squad cars and the polite manners of the police officers… but refuses to listen to any warnings regarding approaching Maitland again.

As he’s doggedly followed by two detectives, John Taggart (John Ashton) and Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), Axel enlists help from another childhood friend, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), in his quest to bring Maitland to justice.

Not much blood but quite a body count
Murphy’s first scene clearly establishes him as the star of the film. He never stops talking, he knows how to exploit white people’s fear of being accused of racism, you can even tell from his eyes that he knows that he’s full of shit but as long as he doesn’t stop talking no one will notice. He’s hilarious and owns his character one hundred percent. Murphy’s particularly great together with Ashton and Reinhold, two significantly more conservative cops who are constantly the butt of Axel’s jokes; the latter has a lot of charm as the enthusiastic, innocent part of the duo.

As for laughs, Bronson Pinchot also does his part as a gay art gallery worker whose accent is so thick that he even manages to outperform Murphy in his scenes (“Achwell?”). The story is as simple as they come; there’s no doubt that Maitland (Steven Berkoff, chewing the scenery) is a murderous villain and in his first encounter with Axel he does his best, inexplicably enough, to convince him of that fact. And, of course, the Beverly Hills authorities are too dumb to listen to our hero. But who cares? The audience is instantly committed to Axel’s quest and the escalating war between him and Maitland is exciting, ending in a violent shootout at the villain’s swank home.

There isn’t much blood in the film, but quite a body count nonetheless. Harold Faltermeyer’s electronic score (and particularly his terrific “Axel F” theme) is just as perfect an accompaniment as the unusually successful mix of pop tunes, including songs by Glenn Frey, Patti LaBelle and the Pointer Sisters that were all major hits.

Great movies rarely come out of stressful situations. Director Martin Brest has always selected his films carefully (the one preceding Beverly Hills Cop came in 1979) and this project had been talked about for a decade before it finally happened. As a genre piece, it is still a role model that young directors should be required to study; the script is the only part that needs more work.

Beverly Hills Cop 1984-U.S. 105 min. Color. Produced by Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer. Directed by Martin Brest. Screenplay: Daniel Petrie, Jr.. Music: Harold Faltermeyer. Cast: Eddie Murphy (Axel Foley), Judge Reinhold (Billy Rosewood), John Ashton (John Taggart), Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff… Paul Reiser, Damon Wayans.

Trivia: Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke were allegedly considered for the part of Axel Foley; David Cronenberg for directing duties. Followed by two sequels, starting with Beverly Hills Cop II (1987).

Quote: “Don’t you think I know that if I was some hotshot from out of town that pulled inside here and you guys made a reservation mistake, I’d be the first one to get a room and I’d be upstairs relaxing right now. But I’m not some hotshot from out of town, I’m a small reporter from ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine that’s in town to do an exclusive interview with Michael Jackson that’s gonna be picked up by every major magazine in the country. I was gonna call the article ‘Michael Jackson Is Sitting On Top of the World,’ but now I think I might as well just call it ‘Michael Jackson Can Sit On Top of the World Just As Long As He Doesn’t Sit in the Beverly Palm Hotel ‘Cause There’s No Niggers Allowed in There!’” (Murphy trying to get a hotel room)

Last word: “I’m a comedian who got into movies, so I don’t really think of myself as an actor. I started out as a stand-up comedian. And that’s what I’m most comfortable doing. Making movies is time-consuming and it’s boring. You spend most of your time waiting between takes. It’s like a big machine that moves slowly. And you have to work in what you do with what somebody else is doing. It all has to fit together. Now that’s cool something. Like in the ‘Cop’ movies, Judge [Reinhold] and John [Ashton] and I were comfortable improvising, and it took off somewhere. But that doesn’t always happen. When I’m doing stand-up, it’s just me depending on me. I know how to go out there and make people laugh.” (Murphy, Interview Magazine)


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