Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

2016 #105
John Landis | 100 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

Beverly Hills Cop III always seemed to be on TV when I was younger — on BBC1, quite late, but I guess not that late because I always seemed to stumble across it during the theme park climax. In reality it can probably have only been on a couple of times, but that’s how it seemed. And because it caught my attention, I somehow knew that one day I’d end up watching the entire movie, just to see. To see what, I’m not sure; but to see. Of course, that necessitated watching the first and second films first (because I’m me). I very much enjoyed them both. Unfortunately, the third is nothing like as good.

This time, Detroit cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) tracks a gang of crooks to Disneyland Wonder World, an L.A. theme park. There, he ropes in his old chum in the Beverly Hills PD, Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), and blatant stand-in for an actor who refused to come back his colleague Jon Flint (Héctor Elizondo), to investigate Wonder World’s head of security (Timothy Carhart), who Axel recognises as the head of the gang.

By all accounts Beverly Hills Cop III was a troubled production. Murphy was in a phase where he could be a pain to work with, and, according to director John Landis, was envious of the careers of Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, who were starring in straight action movies. Consequently, Murphy was keen to downplay the film’s comedy — much to its detriment, of course, as it’s Murphy’s comedy that makes this series work. Landis knew that: in the same interview, he says the screenplay for the first film was “one of the worst scripts I ever read […] It was a piece of shit, that script, but the movie’s very funny because Eddie Murphy and [the film’s director] Martin Brest made it funny.” The script for the threequel also wasn’t any good (according to some versions of events, that’s why original co-stars John Ashton and Ronny Cox didn’t return), but Landis tried to put Murphy in funny situations and see what improvisation threw up. Murphy, keen to be taken seriously, worked around that.

I don’t think all blame can be laid on Murphy, though. For an example, look at the sequence aboard a broken-down ride about halfway through the movie — it might just be one of the most tension-free thrill sequences ever filmed. Axel has to climb across the ride, storeys up in the air, to rescue two kids who are dangling from another compartment. It seems to take him forever to get there — far, far longer than those two young kids could plausibly hang on for — while interminable early-’90s electronic music throbs in the background. The park attendants stand around doing nothing. A whole crowd of people stare up at him with bored expressions. I’m not sure if that was deliberate, because I can’t really see what the point of a massive crowd of blank-faced onlookers serves, but I also can’t see how anyone involved in the film could’ve read their expressions as being in any way interested by or invested in the action they’re supposedly watching. Well, at least it reflects how the audience must’ve felt.

In my review of the original Beverly Hills Cop, I wrote about how I only really watched it so I could then see the sequels, because they were directed by Tony Scott and John Landis. Ironically, the first one turned out to be good entertainment, and certainly the most enjoyable of the trilogy. Scott’s sequel isn’t half bad; very much a “next best thing” situation. As for Landis’ effort… Well, Beverly Hills Cop III isn’t all bad — some fun slips through the cracks; the occasional glimmer of what made the previous movies memorable. But when taken as a whole film, it’s a crushingly mediocre experience that can’t measure up to either of its predecessors.

2 out of 5

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

2016 #53
Tony Scott | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Wiseass Detroit cop Eddie Murphy heads back to the titular wealthy California city* to investigate when a burglary gang nearly kills his friend.

Top villain Jürgen Prochnow is so underused one wonders why he’s even in the film — Brigitte Nielsen’s more striking henchwoman could’ve been brains as well as brawn. Either way, they’re the character equivalent of a MacGuffin: this is all about Murphy, plus sidekicks Judge Reinhold and John Ashton, having fun and entertaining us in the process. Tony Scott brings ’80s slickness without losing sight of the comedy, for a sequel that’s almost as enjoyable as its predecessor.

4 out of 5

* Did you know Beverly Hills was its own city? I thought it was just an L.A. suburb. ^

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

2015 #176
Martin Brest | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

The last time I watched the first entry in a once-popular ’80s comedy cop movie series, it didn’t end well. And that was directed by Richard Donner, of Superman and The Omen fame — Beverly Hills Cop, on the other hand, was helmed by the man who would go on to give us “worst film of all time” contender Gigli. Oh dear. Truth be told, my main reason for watching Beverly Hills Cop is so that I can one day watch Beverly Hills Cop II, directed by Tony Scott, and Beverly Hills Cop III, directed by John Landis. So, I didn’t expect to care for this all that much…

But I actually thought it was really fun. It’s not the funniest movie ever, nor does it have the most thrilling action, or the most engrossing or surprising plot, but it does all those things — well, the first two — well, maybe just the first one — well enough. It’s sort of incessantly likeable.

The term “star vehicle” could have been coined for this film — it’s all about Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley. It’s mad to think he was brought on late in the day, because you just can’t imagine it with anyone else. It’s his performance, his style, that makes the movie worth watching. Without him — with a straightforward lead like Sylvester Stallone, who was originally attached — it would be a painfully rote action/revenge thriller. The plot is no great shakes at all; what works is the fish-out-of-water element of putting Murphy’s black, working-class Detroit cop in white, posh Beverly Hills, plus his engaging performance and humour.

Murphy’s not the only good thing, though. Judge Reinhold and John Ashton make an excellent double act as the pair of cops assigned to keep an eye on Foley in Beverly Hills; Ronny Cox is their amenable boss; Steven Berkoff pretty much just has to turn up to be an excellent villain; Lisa Eilbacher is decent as the girl (presumably changed from being a love interest after they cast a black guy). Her part doesn’t exactly call for a great deal, but she’s fine enough in it; as good as anyone ever is in such a limited role.

There’s also the iconic theme music, Axel F, perhaps better known to The Youth of Today thanks to Crazy Frog (you’d forgotten that, hadn’t you? Sorry). It makes its debut ten minutes into the film during an exciting sequence where… Axel parks his car outside his home. I guess no one knew what they had on their hands… except perhaps composer Harold Faltermeyer, who seems to have written the theme, thought “my work here is done,” and laid it over most of the movie. (That’s unfair — there is other music. Sometimes.)

Beverly Hills Cop’s plot is colour-by-numbers, and sometimes advanced by magic (the way they track Axel and co at the climax just looks like GPS today, but no such system existed in 1984); the mystery is non-existent (even if it wasn’t obvious Berkoff would be the villain, the henchman who did the deed is shown to be in his employ the first time we meet him); Brest’s direction is unremarkably static… you could probably go on. But thanks to Eddie Murphy and the rest of the cast, Beverly Hills Cop winds up a highly watchable, very likeable spot of entertainment.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.