Beverly Hills Cop (1984) (R)
This is Eddie Murphy at his finest, at his most powerful, and maybe his funniest. Though the tendency is to lump the actor in with "over-actors" like Jim Carrey, what you might forget is that Murphy can carry a scene without weird faces or fancy voices. For most of the movie, he plays the straight man (and I do mean that in more than one way) and rarely goes into the typical whirlwinds of screaming and flailing that we would expect.
The movie begins in Detroit, which is shot in its worst possible light. The buildings look to be crumbling, the crime rate always appears to be increasing...it's not exactly what Rebecca Solnit had in mind. Axel Foley (Murphy) is a cop who likes to take things into his own hands. It's not that he's extremely moral about his work, just sometimes he feels that the system has to bend, so he bends it.
This doesn't go over too well, and his boss sternly lets him know that one more infraction and he can kiss his badge and gun good-bye.
He grumbles but can really do nothing about it, so he thinks that he'll abide by the law for a little while, until his friend Mikey (James Russo) comes back into town. Mikey has been working in Beverly Hills as a security guard and now seems to have stolen some money. When Mikey winds up dead that night, Foley decides to take it upon himself to go to Beverly Hills to solve the murder.
Upon arriving, he immediately upsets the power balance by treading of the ground of Victor Matiland (Steven Berkoff) one of the local kingpins of "art". Getting taken into police custody, Foley finds himself dealing with a pair of bumbling cops, Rosewood and Taggart (Judge Reinhold and John Ashton).
"Beverly Hills Cop" is neither a black comedy (you can take that more than one way if you wish) nor a slapstick piece. There are moments of genuine peril in the film as well as laughs. Murphy's performance is so easy to watch that you almost forget he had to get paid for doing this—for that, the movie is an inviting one.
Martin Brest, the director, finds a way to make his film successful while still defying the norms. There is a black man at the center of the film, and no one tries to take his spotlight...it's a crime thriller/police movie about him and no one else. There's a female character who doesn't get thrown around, who won't take crap off of people...and she doesn't have to sleep with anyone.
Narratively, there are a few cliches; but character-wise, "Beverly Hills Cop" is golden.
If nothing else, the movie is remarkable for its stunt work, which opens the movie in spectacular fashion and would predate somethings Nolan would do in his movies...the two couldn't be more different.
Animosity grows between the pristine local police force and Foley's rouge man show as he starts to inch closer and closer to the truth about Mikey's death.
In the end, it's not the plot that makes "Beverly Hills Cop" rewarding. It's not something that makes you say "wow", stand up, or clap; but its easy going attitude and frankly mindless entertainment value is beyond anything of the era.
There are hidden gems to the movie. References to movies like "Shaft", commentary on race situations, and certainly more than one funny surprise moment.
It's good, it's fun, and it's harmless.
Posted by Micah Jones