Beverly Hills Cop is a 1984 film directed by Martin Brest with Eddie Murphy as the protagonist. Murphy was at the beginning of his career as an actor (but he already was a well-known comedian) and had worked already with Walter Hill in 48 Hours (1982) and John Landis in Trading Places (1983), with excellent results in terms of critical and box office success.
Beverly Hills Cop continued this positive streak as not only is it virtually unanimously remembered as a good film, but it also gave birth to two sequels (and a belated fourth installment is rumored even now in 2021). So, what’s Beverly Hills Cop about?
Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who does anything he can, even breaking the rules, in order to arrest criminals and enforce the law, however much it angers his captain (Gilbert R. Hill). When someone kills his old friend Mikey (James Russo), he doesn’t think twice about going to Hollywood to find out who’s responsible…
Obviously, the plot isn’t the strong point of this film, as it’s not original by any stretch of the imagination. However, it’s credible enough, it allows Murphy to demonstrate his talent as an action hero as well as a comedian, and it supports some very interesting class commentary.
Regarding this last point, it’s remarkable how Brest (and the screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr.) wanted to highlight in every possible way how Detroit, its run-down police force and the rebel Axel Foley represent the proletarian United States opposed to glittering Hollywood ruled by wealthy cocaine traffickers surrounded by expensive art and with a police force that looks like a private army defending their privileges.
This is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the film, even if the social criticism stops there since even the Beverly Hills cops prove to be upright and dutiful. The New Hollywood with Serpico’s (1973) corruption had already been forgotten: in 1984, under the Reagan presidency, Hollywood cinema was showing a new image of the country.
In any case, Beverly Hills Cop is still convincing today from all points of view. The action scenes are well shot and are supported by a gripping soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer. The cast is great: Murphy has a lot of chemistry with the exceptional Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox and Lisa Eilbacher, and both Steven Berkoff and Jonathan Banks are the perfect villains.
Plus, Eddie Murphy is in top form. Brest was good at letting him improvise when necessary (for example at the arrival at the hotel, or in the opening scene with the Detroit criminals) but making him stick to the script for the rest of the film. The result is a great talent in the service of the film (and not vice versa!), and that is why Beverly Hills Cop remains a good movie to this day.
It’s not a perfect one, and as far as I’m concerned the biggest flaw is in the pyrotechnic ending that throws credibility out the window, but it seems that it was inevitable in those years not to end a thriller with something like that (think of the various Lethal Weapon, for example…).
In any case, I would gladly rewatch Beverly Hills Cop tomorrow if I had the time to do it, as it’s full of funny scenes, the action is good, the cast is perfect, and there’s even an interesting theme behind it. We’ll talk about the sequels soon! Ciao!
PS: the audio commentary by Martin Brest contained in the Bluray edition of the film I own reveals the genesis of the film and it’s full of juicy anecdotes (here’s a random example: during the initial truck chase, the director and cameraman can be seen on the roof of a building for just a second).