By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Detroit cop in L.A.
Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who likes working outside the system and by his own rules, which frequently gets him into clashes with his superior Captain Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), comes to visit him from Beverly Hills, but later is murdered, Axel requests to be put on the case, but Captain Todd refuses to assign him thinking Axel was too close emotionally to the victim to be able to give the case a fair investigation. To get around this Axel requests some time-off for a vacation, so that he can travel to Beverly Hills and do some investigating on his free time. When he arrives he meets-up with Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), who was a mutual childhood friend of both Axel and Mickey. She works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), who may be the one behind Mikey’s murder. When Axel tries to follow-up on this lead he gets himself in trouble with the police department there and quickly learns that in Beverly Hills everything is very much by-the-book.
This film is a great example of how an idea for a movie can go through many changes before it finally comes to fruition. The original concept came about in 1975 when Michael Eisner, then head of Paramount Pictures, got pulled over for speeding while driving an old station wagon and was taken aback by the condescending way the Beverly Hills police treated him simply because he was driving a beat-up car. He came to the conclusion that the Beverly Hills police department was highly status conscious and wanted to bring this angle out in a movie. He sent out an open call asking for writers to submit scripts with a premise dealing with an outsider coming into the Beverly Hills police unit and clashing with their culture. Most of the scripts that were sent in he didn’t care for until finally in 1983 the one written by Daniel Petrie Jr. caught his eye.
Both he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer enjoyed the comical elements that were in it and cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead, but he wanted the comedy removed and they refused to abide, so he walked-off the project and was eventually replaced by Murphy. Director Martin Brest, who had just been fired as director of War Games, had grown disillusioned with Hollywood and considered getting out of the business, but was hounded so much by Bruckheimer that he had to change his phone number, but when the calls continued anyways he finally flipped a coin, so as to decide whether he’d do the project, or not. When he result came up heads he said ‘yes’ and because of the film’s later box office success he eventually had that coin framed and mounted on his office wall.
Eddie Murphy is clearly the entertaining catalyst that drives this and I was happy that despite him being black his race is never a factor. It’s also great that his hard-nosed supervisor that routinely chews-him-out isn’t some authoritarian white guy either, but instead an actual black police chief, Gilbert R. Hill, who was brought in as a police consultant, but eventually got cast and his exasperated expressions are more than enough to elicit genuine laughs.
It would though have been nice to see Murphy, at least briefly, in a police uniform as the character comes-off as being too outside the system, so for the sake of balance seeing that at times he was still ‘a part of the team’ and had to conform. He also mentions being an expert thief during his youth, so for added character development this should’ve been explored; what caused him to change his ways and become a cop instead of remaining a thief? Unfortunately this aspect is never answered.
John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as the two cops who initially act like adversaries, but ultimately work together with Murphy as a team, are terrific. During the 70’s and 80’s cops weren’t usually portrayed in nice ways. Most movies either characterized them as being excessively buffoonish, or entirely corrupt, but here they got humanized. Ashton in particular is a perfect caricature of a cop without it having to go overboard and the script makes great use of Reinhold’s wide-eyed expression by working it into him being young and inexperienced. The conversation the two have while in the squad car where Reinhold talks about the ‘five pounds of red meat in the bowels’ was taken nearly word-for-word from what the two used during their audition that got them the roles.
The car chases, particularly the one at the beginning shot in Detroit, are quite exciting and this is one of the rare cop films that manages to blend the humor with the action without having to compromise on either. The only complaint I have, and this may sound shallow to some, is that I couldn’t stand the mole, or whatever it is, on the center of Steven Berkoff”s forehead. I honestly found it very distracting, and there are quite a few close-up shots of his face, so it’s hard not to see it and in fact with each scene he’s in I kept focusing more on that than what was being said. There are pictures on the net of him as a child and even young adult where the growth was not apparent, so I’m not sure at what age it occurred, but since it’s in such a prominent part of his face, I would have, if I were him, had it surgically removed if medically possible.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: December 1, 1984
Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
Director: Martin Brest
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video