Beverly Hills Cop

April 5, 2011

You can take this one to the bank, folks: Eddie Murphy stands to reign supreme over this Christmas movie season. Advance word on his new film promised as much, and there’s nothing in the film itself to contradict the predictions.

Beverly Hills Cop is a variant on Clint Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff. Eastwood was a country cop gone to the big city in that film. Here, Murphy is a streetwise Detroit policeman who undergoes culture shock in the frour-frou restaurants and art galleries of Beverly Hills.

He’s there—against the orders of his Detroit superiors—to investigate the murder of a pal. With the help of a childhood friend (Lisa Eilbacher) and the reluctant aid of two local cops (one dopey: Judge Reinhold; one grumpy: John Ashton), he insolently tracks down a big shot (steely Steven Berkoff) who ordered the pal’s rub-out.

If that synopsis sounds too somber, don’t fret. Murphy is in high comic gear, and remember that 48 HRS was a hard-nosed copy/comedy movie that had people rolling in the aisles. Beverly Hills Cop isn’t as consistently good as 48 HRS, or Murphy’s other gonzo hit, Trading Places, but it’s a shrewdly mounted piece of commercial movie making.

Murphy, it is reported, makes up his own dialogue while staying within the dictates of a scene. If that’s true, his directors should tell him to keep on inventing, because he’s obviously got a precise sense of what makes him funny. Cop gives him plenty of opportunity to roll out his cocky brand of street bravado, even if some of the routines are vaguely familiar.

For instance, there’s a scene in which he rides herd over a quivering troupe of customs workers that’s held over from his superb barroom takeover in 48 HRS. And he’s starting to overuse his trademark wheezy laugh (Lisa Eilbacher imitates it at one point). But it doesn’t matter too much, because Murphy owns the screen when he’s on, and—like the characters he plays—he can get away with just about anything.

Director Martin Brest (of Going in Style) has filled in the cracks of the plot with weird little behavioral doodads for the supporting players. The fuzz who are supposed to keep tabs on Murphy during his stay are conventionally but effectively given comic personalities (At one point, Murphy sends them room service—while they’re sitting in a car parked outside his hotel, supposedly spying on him).

Odder still is the receptionist at Eilbacher’s art gallery, a young man of ambiguous ancestry and sexual persuasion (Bronson Pinchot, the inventor of the “Memo Minder” in Risky Business); and a hotel worker (Damon Wayans) who, with ingratiating good cheer, gives Murphy a pair of bananas.

Beverly Hills Cop would’ve grossed a bundle and a half without these diversions, but it’s nice that somebody cared to try to make a real movie, rather than a simple star vehicle. It’s nothing great, but this film is going to make Eddie Murphy’s loyal contingent of fans mighty well pleased.

First published in the Herald, December 8, 1984

The “turn the camera on Eddie and let him riff” technique was still working at this point; later, it wouldn’t (see Harlem Nights). Interesting about Martin Brest. He had made a very nice film, Going in Style, and then this became a smash, and he turned to a Kubrickian pace for his production output (nothing since 2003’s Gigli). Beverly Hills Cop II, of course, brought in Tony Scott as director, and the rest is the 1980s.