Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Steven Berkoff, Ronny Cox, Jonathon Banks, James Russo, Paul Reiner
Plot: Maverick cop, Axel Foley’s (Murphy) witnesses his friend get killed by gangsters and takes a leave of absence to track the killers down to Beverly Hills.
On paper, Beverly Hills Cops sounds like nothing special. A genius cop who struggles to take anything seriously witnesses a close friend get taken out in a mob hit. He takes some vacation leave and heads off to Beverly Hills, where, under the guise that he is on holiday, begins investigating his friend’s suspicious boss, an arts dealer who could be attached to smuggling drugs into America. It sounds pretty routine and in many ways, it plays out exactly how you would expect it to, with the street-wise Detroit cop, running rings around the Beverly Hills police department, who don’t really get to see too much action. However, this is where Martin Brest makes the perfect decision to spice up his movie. Rather than going down the safe route and casting either Al Pacino or Sylvester Stallone as the hero cop (both actors were interested in the project), Brest thinks outside the box and makes Eddie Murphy, at the height of his career, as Axel Foley. And it was here that movie history was born.
It just becomes Eddie Murphy’s show. In fact, if I could pick out one downfall to this movie is that the rest of the story kind of fades away to allow Murphy to soak up more screen time. As much as Steven Berkoff and Jonathon Banks (yes, Breaking Bad’s Jonathon Banks!) are great baddies, they aren’t allowed to really do anything new with minimal time on the screen. However, it is hard to count too much against the movie for this, because Eddie Murphy is an utter blast. When we hit the dark days of Norbit and The Haunted Mansion, with only the occasional Shrek film to remind you of how talented the actor is, returning to his 80s classics reaffirms faith in the actor. He takes every conventional way of approaching the lead character in an action cop movie and turns it on its head. He injects sheer power and energy into his performance, channelling that Eddie Murphy prowess we like so much. His very first scene sees the motormouth just burst into endless pages of dialogue, drowning out everyone else. He is so funny and engaging that you don’t really want anyone else. However, at the same time, this doesn’t strictly become a full-out comedy. Eddie Murphy does a very good job at blending action and comedy well in a way that hasn’t really been done too well in recent years. How many ‘funny’ cop movies have flumped this decade? Pitch Beverly Hills Cops to a teenager in this day and age and he would assume you are trying to make him watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop again. However, Murphy’s Axel Foley, one of the most prominent cop characters in cinematic history, up there with McClane, Callahan and Riggs, makes it look like the easiest thing in the world. The trick is to treat Beverly Hills like the straight cop movie it could have been and just add an Eddie Murphy charm to it later. That way, when the script asks Foley to break into a warehouse or take on Banks in a cat-and-mouse shoot-out in a mansion, Eddie Murphy handles it with ease.
The other thing that makes this movie so iconic is just how 80s it is. With an electronic soundtrack that pulsates in the background, every scene is effortless to watch. There is something about the Axel Foley jingle that just brings a smile to your face. It is synomous with the action of the movie, yet it retains a cheeky sense of fun to it, almost capturing the very essence of a guilty action movie in the space of a few bars of music. The costume and set design are also very tongue-in-cheek, having the ultra fashion of Beverly Hills a playground of visual gags and observational comedy for both Murphy and Martin Brest to just have fun with. It even manages to end up forgiveable through some of the lazier plot points, simply because it could be argued that this is just another call-back to the decade. No, Beverly Hills Cops isn’t the greatest movie out there, but when it comes to diving right back in the cop movies that you grew up with, this is the movie that you will end up watching.
Final Verdict: Casting Murphy could have been a bust. In reality, it was a fantastic decision, making Beverly Hills Cops must-see cinema.