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.