Martin Brest's Beverly Hills Cop (1984) is a film very near and dear to my heart. I was thirteen when I first saw it with a live audience at my local theater. Almost immediately I was impressed with relative unknown stand-up comic Eddie Murphy who seemed to be able to shoot barbs as quickly from his hip as he could bullets from his holster. Then and there I decided that Eddie Murphy's brand of comedic genius was tailor-made for the movies and I became a huge fan. The passage of time has not altered my snap assessment of Murphy’s talents some thirty years later, although I will concede Eddie's made some terrible movies since.
Now, movies from the 1980s generally get a bad rap as high camp disposable puff art. Those who haven't seen enough from the decade are too quick to point out the tacky hairdos and flamboyant fashion trends (padded shoulders, mesh tank tops, pastel Don Johnson suits et al that I must agree have dated since), and the uber-glam-bam of consumer materialism run amuck (lifestyles of the rich and famous here we come), the improbable feather-weight quality of scripts and finally, to the whole laissez faire attitude toward acting then as over-the-top, transparent or just plain dull.
Truer still, there's no shortage of 'bad' movies from the 1980s, but then again, isn't that true of any decade in cinema history? And, I have no doubt that if either Sly Stallone or Mickey Rourke had accepted the challenge of playing Axel Foley (both were initially offered the role) that Beverly Hills Cop would be wedged in the collective consciousness of a bargain basement bin along with the other forgotten whacky-tacky relics. How refreshing then to discover that with Eddie Murphy in the driver's seat not only has Beverly Hills Cop not dated, it seems to have avoided all of the aforementioned pitfalls.
The film opens in the slums of inner city Detroit. Undercover cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is attempting to bust a ring of smugglers by pretending to fence stolen cigarettes when the squad cars move in. One of the smugglers gets cold feet, steals the semi with the contraband and Axel barely clinging to its side and leads the cops on a harrowing chase through the gritty back alleys. The smugglers get away. Axel is left to face the wrath of his superior, Inspector Douglas Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). That evening Axel hooks up with his old pal, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), once a cop too, but who left the badge with a mutual friend, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher) to work for L.A. high roller, Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). One problem: Mikey stole from Victor's private stash and it gets him murdered.
After narrowly escaping the same fate, Axel informs Todd that he is taking a leave of absence for a presumed vacation. Todd warns Axel not to pursue Mikey's homicide but Axel makes his way to the City of Angels anyway. Almost immediately he is met by Victor's violent opposition. A pair of Maitland’s boys ‘sucker toss’ Axel through a plate glass window. Axel is placed under arrest and confronted by Lt. Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox) and his two officers, Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sgt. John Taggart (John Ashton). Although all three cops sympathize with Axel's predicament and promise to look into Mikey's murder in his stead, they absolutely refuse to invest themselves in anything except procedural by-the-book investigative practices. Naturally, this conflicts with Axel's more intuitive powers of deduction.
Axel finds Jenny working as the curator in one of Victor's art galleries. As their friendship rekindles, Axel and Jenny begin to realize that Victor Maitland is involved in illegal narcotics smuggling. But Axel must prove this as in order to establish a motive for Mikey’s murder while dodging Bogomil and brokering a truce with Billy and veteran hard ass Taggart. Ultimately, the comedy gives way to a slam-bang finish with Axel arriving at Victor Maitland’s Beverly Hills mansion for a shootout in which no one – save the principals - is spared. Daniel Petrie's screenplay deserves the real credit here. In as much as Eddie Murphy proves himself to be the master of the adlib it is Petrie's clever shaping of the buoyant buddy-buddy relationship between Axel, Taggart and Rosewood that really keeps the film's pace alive and electric.
Reportedly, director Martin Brest flipped a coin to decide whether or not he would do the film. After it became a smash hit, Brest had the quarter framed and hung on his wall as a good luck piece. In retrospect, Beverly Hills Cop seems to have everything going for it. In reality, it might just as easily have been a disastrous flop. The original script was written in 1977 as a more serious crime drama with action split between Pittsburgh and California. Jenny Summers was to have been Axel's lover and Mikey his brother. When Eddie Murphy became cast in the lead major rewrites were necessary - all of them in service to making the film an action/comedy.
The 'cut and paste' work done on the final draft was still incomplete when Brest started rolling his cameras. To fill in the gaps Brest relied heavily on Murphy's genius for improvisation to literally create dialogue and situations on the spot, many ultimately staying in the film and proving to be among the enduring highlights. In the final analysis, everything clicked to produce the first megawatt hit in Eddie Murphy's film career. Both 48 Hours and Trading Places precede Beverly Hills Cop though neither came anywhere close to clinching the comedian's universal popularity with audiences. Thirty years later, Beverly Hills Cop still holds up spectacularly well.
The same can be said for Paramount Home Video's new Blu-ray incarnation. After some opening credits that belie their 1080p mastering efforts (some wonky colors and camera flicker), the image becomes razor sharp and nearly pristine. Colors pop. Film grain is slightly thicker during interior scenes (as expected for film stock of this vintage) but is in keeping with a very film-like presentation. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are pristine. Contrast is bang on. Fine details are perfectly realized. This is a video presentation that will surely NOT disappoint.
The audio is advertised as a newly remastered DTS. Nevertheless, it remains very frontally focused as is probably in keeping with the original soundtrack. Vintage Dolby really didn't do much with rear channel sound and this audio is no exception. Sorry, but my mind doesn't go back that far and even if it did, I was thirteen. Acoustics meant absolutely nothing to me back then. Could I hear it? Yes. Fine. It sounded good. Times and my tastes have changed. But this DTS 5.1 sounded very good to me.
The highlight of the extras is a 29 minute 'making of' featurette. Martin Brest's audio commentary left me wanting, what with long pauses and only the most superficial of recollections about the film. Featurettes on casting and underscoring the film are relevant but very brief. Together, they barely add up to 18 minutes. All of these extras, save the original theatrical trailer, are in standard definition. Nevertheless, Beverly Hills Cop on Blu-ray is another must own catalogue title given its due on Blu-ray. The folks on the mountain ought to be proud of their enduring commitment to quality hi-def transfers. Show them they deserve more than honorable mention in this review. Buy this disc!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)