Friday, June 19, 2015

Beverly Hills Cop

I watched 1984's BEVERLY HILLS COP again recently and suddenly realized, "Huh. This really isn't a very good movie." Highly entertaining and fun to watch, without question.  Sweet nostalgia, sure.  Funny? At times. But on closer examination, which is obviously a mistake, the fog lifts, and we see it for what it is.   How had I not noticed this the dozens of times previously? Am I getting crotchety?  Overthinking it? I'm more discerning now, yes, but I've gone back and re-watched other 80s favorites like BACK TO THE FUTURE and they're just as good as I remember, but this one....

The script.  I think that's the main culprit. It's awful.  Downright lazy.  Even stupid at times. What should've been a biting skewer of L.A. excess is merely a silly exercise in formula.   Inexplicably, Daniel Petrie's screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award!  This seemingly cobbled together collection of scenes essentially milks the ol' "fish out of water" scenario to its zenith.  Add some pretty good action sequences, a villain with an accent, drug smuggling, and several cringe worthy moments where the main character gets what he wants by bullying and humiliating others and generally making a scene and there you have it.  A box office smash that led to even worse sequels that make this one seem as if directed by John Ford.

Martin Brest helmed this original film with his usual professionalism.  There's no questioning his abilities.  I think he's an intelligent, talented director who handles actors well and has a decent visual sense.  He also does some pretty entertaining DVD commentaries.  His sparse resume includes the wonderful, at times heartbreaking GOING IN STYLE and the slam bang comedic adventure MIDNIGHT RUN.  SCENT OF A WOMAN was overlong but a fine showcase for Pacino and the supporting cast (including an early bit by Philip Seymour Hoffman).  MEET JOE BLACK was really overlong and muddled but still somewhat intriguing.  Let's not bring up GIGLI, 'k?

Eddie Murphy, playing a Detroit cop named Axel Foley who drives his crappy blue Nova all the way to Beverly Hills (and ever wonder how such a POS heap could make it that far?) to investigate the murder of a childhood friend, is the main draw.  His natural, confident underdog style and funny laugh.  Murphy's star was at its brightest in 1984, coming off Saturday Night Live and two big hit films (48 HRS. and TRADING PLACES).  He also had some popular comedy albums and cable specials, though I doubt his "Faggots" routine would fly today.  Oh, Eddie.  Check also 1987's RAW, Murphy's bid to make a celebrated concert film like those of his mentor Richard Pryor.  Pretty mean spirited stuff in there. 

COP was probably Eddie's summit before a long topple, with a mixed bag of offerings and some really bad movies like THE GOLDEN CHILD to follow.  The actor would find a second life later on in more family friendly things like the DR. DOOLITTLE movies.  In between he remade Jerry Lewis' THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, an amusing film best remembered for its plethora of fart jokes.

And let's not forget that pop single, "Party All the Time".

Perhaps one can trace the first fall to BEVERLY HILLS COP, its obvious tailoring as the dreaded Star Vehicle I've bitched about before.  The entire film is shaped around Eddie, making him, without fail, come out on top.  Just about everyone else in the film is drawn as a one dimensional buffoon. Makes it difficult to root for Axel Foley.  Never once is he the butt of a joke, the victim - other than being thrown straight through a window in a senseless scene.  Other actors do get to be funny, most notably Bronson Pinchot as art gallery snob Serge, but it's all about Eddie, who can do no wrong.  That's what audiences wanted, and still do.  To vicariously live through these characters who always win, no matter that they have to behave like complete pricks to achieve that victory.   The film's message seems to be that if you are obnoxious enough, you'll get your way, every time.

But it must be said: despite all that, it still manages to be an ingratiating, never-fail dose of entertainment that benefited from a good director and an attractive cast.  I still really enjoy Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F" theme, too.  So maybe I should just ignore the inner critic.  Just don't get me started on COP II and III.....

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