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Are you driving with your eyes open? Or are you, like, using “the Force”?

Movie

Beverly Hills Cop II
(1987)

 

I think it’s safe to say that Tony Scott wasn’t the greatest comedy director. Things worked out fairly well when the humour was borne from dialogue intrinsic to the script (Last Boy ScoutTrue Romance) but an improvised approach didn’t really mesh with an auteur ethic based on how cool the light in each individual shot looks and how many filters and smoke machines are needed.

The audience clearly knew something wasn’t quite right. Beverly Hills Cop was the most successful film of 1984 in the US, grossing $234m (more than half a billion adjusted for inflation); BCII made $80m less than that, and trailed behind Fatal Attraction and Three Men and a Baby for the year (esteemed company!) But swings and balances were operating to some extent, as between the first and second film Murphy also became an international star. Worldwide, the figures evened up. Still, the smell of uninspired cash-in permeated the project. The even more desperate Beverly Hills Cop III, in 1994, came at Murphy’s lowest ebb and the public indifference to it was the final nail in the franchise (despite numerous murmurings that there’d be a IV). Until this year’s attempt at a TV rebirth, that is. Which will feature both Murphy and the alarming cosmetically-altered visage of Judge Reinhold.

It should have been a surer thing (I’m not saying all concerned wouldn’t have been very happy with the gross, mind). Tony Scott was coming off the back of 1986’s Number One movie, Top Gun. His first film, The Hunger, was an arty lesbian vampire movie that fizzled; the sort of thing, in retrospect, that even his more pretentious brother would have given a wide berth. That he plunged headlong into the crassest examples of shallow ’80s commercialism (he did, after all, come from commercials) with his next two films can’t help but look like a response to that failure. Top Gun made the navy recruitment people very happy; more to the point, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (and Paramount) were ecstatic.

They were on a roll back then (well, Bruckheimer’s still doing very well for himself), with FlashdanceBeverly Hills Cop and Top Gun making enormous amounts of money. Their loud, flashy movies were synonymous with the cliché of the shallow ’80s “greed is good” mentality. The soundtrack of BCII is awash with synth tracks of indiscriminate quality, as well as Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme (the track Shakedown was a US No.1 and Oscar nominated). The producers make a virtue of the characters visiting strip clubs, and then reinforce the point with a really unnecessary stop-off at the Playboy Mansion (all good publicity for Heff, of course).

Murphy is credited with the story, so he must take some of the blame for its randomness (then again, why should he have been expected to get it all right; it’s crazy to think he was only 26 when BCII was released). He returns to Beverly Hills to track down who is responsible for shooting Captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox) and so sets on the trail of the “Alphabet Crimes” with old cohorts Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton). Of course, as soon as he arrives he happens upon those responsible but still takes frequent comedy detours to fill out the running time. I’m not sure the whole Alphabet Crimes thing makes any sense, even given that these are evidently only-in-a-movie robbers who want to be caught.  Which surely have occurred much sooner, if not for the stop-start approach indulging Eddie’s riffing and highlighting that Scott hadn’t yet got a handle on pacing his films (maybe this one was just beyond repair).

Ironically, the Axel stuff rarely feels particularly inspired. In part this is no doubt because the script gives Murphy too few scenarios to really spark off. The chemistry between Murphy, Ashton and Reinhold is appealing as ever, but the funniest moments (aside from the visit to lawyer Sidney Bernstein) tend to centre on Rosewood’s obsession with guns and his curious pastimes (his flat filled with plants, his pet tortoise). Paul Reiser also makes the most of a scene where he poses as Foley’s boss (and Chris Rock has his first film role, playing a valet at the Playboy Mansion). To be fair to Murphy, he comes across as a giving performer, and his reactions to his co-stars’ moments tend to make them funnier, but he isn’t firing on all cylinders here.

The cast also includes Brigitte Nielsen (posters of her then beau Sylvester Stallone adorn the walls of Rosewood’s flat, including Cobra which she starred in) and thankless bad guy parts for Jürgen Prochnow and Dean Stockwell.

That said, even though this is something of a mess that fails as both an action movie and as a comedy, it’s still enjoyable to revisit “proper” Eddie Murphy, rather than his family movie incarnation of the past fifteen years (his turn in Tower Heist was a welcome, if too-brief, reminder of the quick-fire Murphy of old).

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