Beverly Hills Cop (United States, 1984)

June 04, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Beverly Hills Cop Poster

Beverly Hills Cop holds a retains a hallowed position in the pantheon of ‘80s blockbusters. It was the third of three films to catapult Eddie Murphy to movie stardom (the others being 1982’s 48 Hours and 1983’s Trading Places). At the time when he made Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy was still willing to take chances and his ego remained (somewhat) in check. Although director Martin Brest allowed Murphy some latitude, he kept things under control. There is enough humor in the mix to elevate Beverly Hills Cop above the level of a staple ‘80s action film (it was envisioned as such when it went into production with Sylvester Stallone planning to star).

Whereas most ‘80s action stars approached their roles with bulging biceps and impossibly powerful guns, Murphy’s armament was his comedic edge. His used his rapier wit and preening confidence to good effect throughout Beverly Hills Cop. His charismatic presence is such that it’s easy to forget the porous nature of the storyline and general feebleness of the villain. These elements, leftovers from when Stallone was involved, were never fixed for Murphy but he was able to work with them while making Axel Foley an ‘80s icon.

The film’s early scenes introduce us to Axel, a brilliant Detroit detective with an antiestablishment streak who frequently raises the ire of his exasperated boss, Inspector Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When Axel’s friend Mikey Tandino (James Russo) is murdered, Axel takes it personally and, despite a cease-and-desist order from Todd, he launches his own investigation. Clues lead Axel to Beverly Hills, where he has an almost-immediate falling-out with the local by-the-book establishment, headed up by Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox). Although Bogomil grudgingly allows Axel to continue his California “vacation,” he assigns two of his men, the crusty Sgt. Taggart (John Ashton) and the naïve Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), to tail the out-of-town visitor. Axel easily avoids their surveillance while checking in with Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), a local art dealer who helped get Mikey a job prior to his death. That job was doing work for businessman Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), whose demeanor declares “guilty!” with the certainty of the Kryptonian elders in Superman. Axel, now joined by Taggart and Rosewood, decides to take down Maitland and his henchman, Zack (Jonathan Banks), even though Bogomil and the chief of police want Axel outside the city limits asap.

If there’s a surprise to be found in Beverly Hills Cop, it’s that Bogomil turns out to be exactly what he seems to be: a by-the-book cop. He is not, as he might be in almost every other cop movie, an informant for the bad guy. Anyone looking for a twisty script or overplotted storyline will be disappointed by what Beverly Hills Cop has to offer. Although the buddy-cop aspect gets some mileage, this is more of a one-man show than a duet. There isn’t the briefest of moments when Judge Reinhold emerges from Murphy’s shadow. Meanwhile, one might be forgiven for wondering why Lisa Eilbacher is in the movie at all (besides being used to move a few plot points forward). Apparently, she was the love interest in the Stallone version, which would have amplified the character’s importance, but that was dropped when Murphy came on board (either because the filmmakers felt Murphy would work better without being encumbered by a romantic subplot or because the producers were worried about the impact of an interracial romance on the box office in certain areas of the country).

Beverly Hills Cop was at the forefront of a gradual shift in the genre from pure, unadulterated action to a mixture of stunts/fights/crashes and comedy. The subtle injection of humor pioneered by some of the early ‘80s entries paved the way for the surfeit of late ‘80s hits (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, etc.). It provided Martin Brest with clout as a director (his high point after this would be Scent of a Woman, although he crashed and burned a few years after that with Gigli) and enriched Paramount’s coffers, adding another franchise to their growing stable (which included Star Trek and Indiana Jones).

One aspect that set Beverly Hills Cop apart from many of its contemporaries was the lack of hardcore action scenes. This had not been the case during the original development process but, once Murphy signed his contract, rewrites were in order. Murphy’s strengths lay elsewhere so the script was changed accordingly. So, although there are a few traditional action scenes, these are more obligatory than intended to excite and invigorate. The formula changed (for the worse) with Beverly Hills Cop II, which shifted its focus more toward generic action with comedy sprinkled in.

Nearly as iconic as Murphy’s portrayal of Axel is the soundtrack. Featuring four singles, including Harold Faltermeyer’s electronic instrumental, “Axel F,” the album hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200 in June 1985. Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” went to #2 on the pop/rock charts (with a year-end position of #19). Patti LaBelle’s “New Attitude” topped out at #17 but went to #1 on the dance charts. Faltermeyer’s “Axel X” reached #3 on the rock/pop charts but hit #1 on both the Adult Contemporary and dance charts. The final single, LaBelle’s “Stir It Up,” was a relatively poor performer, just missing the Top 40 (it peaked in position #41).

In terms of pure storyline, Beverly Hills Cop suffers from its tendency to prioritize Murphy’s comedic gifts over the narrative, but that element has enabled the film to stand the test of time. Well-plotted cop movies are a dime-a-dozen but productions gifted with Murphy’s talents – especially at this stage of his career – are a rare breed. Too bad about the sequels, though…

Beverly Hills Cop (United States, 1984)

Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff, James Russo, Jonathan Banks
Home Release Date: 2024-06-06
Screenplay: Daniel Petrie Jr.
Cinematography: Bruce Surtees
Music: Harold Faltermeyer
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Home Release Date: 2024-06-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Nudity)
Genre: Action/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1