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BEVERLY HILLS COP

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff
Director:  Martin Brest
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  January 29, 2002

“Tell me what’s the charge.”

“Carrying a concealed weapon and disturbing the peace.”

“DISTURBING THE PEACE??  I got thrown through a window!  What’s the f—king charge for getting pushed out of a moving car, huh?  JAYWALKING??”

Film ***1/2

Eddie Murphy has returned to prime form in recent years, and that’s been great to see.  It may be the case where, like with John Travolta, it will be hard to remember there was a period between his initial exploding stardom and his renaissance where he was mostly absent from any worthwhile project and more fondly remembered than actually missed.

I can still clearly recall the early days when the young comic star of “Saturday Night Live” first broke into the movies.  His first two mainstream pictures were both big hits…48 Hrs and Trading Places showed him capable of holding his own with established stars like Nick Nolte and Dan Aykroyd respectively.  But when Beverly Hills Cop came out, it proved he could carry a movie all by himself as well.

I saw his first two films, but responded to Beverly Hills Cop with much more enthusiasm.  It may have also been my first experience with a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production, too, but at the time, I only noticed Eddie Murphy.  He plays Detroit detective Axel Foley as though he were born for the part.

Foley is a good cop capable of an occasional misguided but well-intended deed.  As the picture opens, we witness the funny (and rather smashing) scene where his unauthorized attempt at a black market bust goes terribly wrong, leading to an unforgettable truck chase through the streets of Detroit.

But the real story begins when a longtime shady friend gets murdered outside of his apartment.  Not allowed to work on the case because of his personal involvement, the unflappable Foley takes a vacation and heads to Beverly Hills, the city where the crime trail leads.

What follows is more than just a fish-out-of-water story, though Murphy makes the most out of the obvious contrast of a street smart black man in a town of white bread wealth and arrogance.  With the aid of another old friend, Jenny (Eilbacher), he follows the clues to international art dealer Victor Maitland (Berkoff), but before he can act, he has to go through the polite but stiff Beverly Hills police force, including the straight-laced captain (Cox) and the two partners assigned to keep Axel out of trouble, Taggert and Rosewood (Ashton and Reinhold).

The picture is an entertaining mixture of comedy, action, and music…let’s not forget that this film produced one of the best soundtrack albums of the 80s.  If you have forgotten, the opening strains of “The Heat is On” by Glen Frey will remind you.  Harold Faltermeyer’s score is as memorable as any from the time period, spawning its own hit single in “Axel F”.

The Simpson/Bruckheimer signature is all over this film, despite being an early entry and therefore modestly budgeted compared to their later pictures.  Laughs and excitement go hand in hand, and even a surprising moment of violence or two doesn’t shake the audience out of the fun they have.  (I should say mostly…my mother never could accept that a comedy could have a few people getting shot along the way.)

But the real signature of the picture belongs to Eddie Murphy, who not only proved himself a fully capable comic film star, but helped to usher in a new kind of cop for the movies as well.  Every wisecracking flatfoot of the last 18 years owes a little something to Axel Foley.

The film has stood up well…it’s just as much fun to watch for me today as when it first came out while I was a kid.  A couple of sub-par sequels didn’t take away the shine from the first one.  Eddie Murphy’s star was definitely at a high with this movie, and it’s been very welcome to see it return to that kind of luster once again.

The movie does beg at least one question, however…why is it that bad guys can’t hit anything they aim for, even with machine guns?

Video **

I can’t say I’m overly impressed with this transfer…I owned a copy of this movie on laser disc for many years, and was expecting the DVD to be an improvement…other than being presented in anamorphic widescreen, it looks pretty much the same.  Films from the 80s tend to be problematic, and this one is no exception…while it’s perfectly watchable, one can’t help but notice the overall softness of the images, coupled with lack of detail (especially in displaying darker images).  A bit of grain crops up here and there, and there is a light sense of overall color muting…all of these are attributable to the age of the film, and not the transfer, to be sure, but they still merit pointing out.  It may be time to take Axel in for a bit of restoration before he ends up looking as shabby as that Nova he drives.

Audio **1/2

The new 5.1 mix is serviceable, but nothing to get excited about.  After a promising early start with the truck chase sequences where all channels hopped nicely into the mix, the audio settles down into a more straightforward presentation, without a lot of rear stage usage, and only a moderate amount of dynamic range.  The .1 channel kicks in nicely to add some bass to the terrific song score, though…that’s a very nice touch.

Features ****

The commentary with director Martin Brest is a fair listen, with some pauses…as he puts it, “I’m just as hypnotized by this images as you are…”  Um, yeah…anyway, it’s a bit light, but some good information here and there, including working with the actors, the evolution of the project and such.  The “cast and crew interviews” is actually about a half hour new featurette that looks back on the making of the movie, from it’s conception to its various stages (at one point, it was a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, and most of his ideas later went into the movie Cobra), plus interviews with Jerry Bruckheimer, Martin Brest, and cast members (though only a couple of brief comments from Eddie Murphy).

The other features include a featurette on casting and one on the music, an interactive locations segment, a photo gallery, and the original trailer.

Summary:

Beverly Hills Cop is a fast, funny, and entertaining 80s film that showcased a true comic talent doing what he did (and again does) best.  Eddie Murphy’s likeable star power, coupled with a good script and a nice blend of humor and action make this an enduring fan favorite, and a welcome addition to DVD.