Tagline: In for the ride of his life.
Director: John Landis
Writers: Danilo Bach (character), Daniel Petrie Jr. (character), Steven E. De Souza
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Timthy Carhart, Judge Reinhold, Hector Helizondo, Theresa Randle, Stephen McHattie, Gilbert R. Hill, Jon Tenney, Joey Travolta
15 | 1hr 44min | Action, Comedy
Whatever happened to Eddie Murphy?
For those of you who recall his comedic prime you will remember a man of great wit and enthusiasm, a star attraction who sold out arenas with his cutting edge act of irresistible profanity. So unique was Murphy’s off-the-cuff style it was inevitable that he would follow idol and mentor Richard Pryor into the movie world, and in spite of his explicit repertoire he would receive two Emmy and three Golden Globe nominations during the 1980s, starring in such classics as 48 Hrs, Trading Places and Coming to America.
Murphy is perhaps most fondly remembered as Axel Foley, the streetwise Detroit cop whose trip to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of a childhood friend resulted in Murphy translating several of his Saturday Night Live characters into one crowd-pleasing performance. The Beverly Hills Cop screenplay was originally written for Sylvester Stallone, and a heavy re-write was required once Murphy was signed up to replace him, one which catered heavily to his impromptu style. The movie itself was a pretty basic exercise in the buddy cop mode, but thanks largely to Murphy’s energy and oozing onscreen chemistry with co-stars Judge Reinhold and John Ashton, it was a commercial and creative success that would go on to spawn two sequels.
Although the first of those sequels — a carbon copy of the same old formula which succeeded in castrating Murphy’s star turn in favour of a violent and largely humourless action flick — was disappointing enough, Beverly Hills Cop III was an unnecessary creative disaster. The problems were plentiful. First of all this was another straight-up retread. Beverly Hills Cop II had been fuelled by the same vengeance-motivated plot line, Axel and his cohorts seeking retribution for the shooting of Beverly Hills police Lieutenant Andrew Bogomil, a once Axel detractor who would inevitably be won over by his cavalier antics. In Beverly Hills Cop III, it is Foley’s own captain who becomes the victim of a shooting – this time fatal – and once again Axel will stop at nothing to bring the shooter and his money-laundering operation tumbling down.
First and foremost, it is painfully apparent that Murphy’s heart is no longer in the role, such is his largely apathetic and pedestrian performance. The actor often seems to be going through the motions, and his trademark smile and infectious chuckle – those unique slights of expression that once lit up the screen – are so muted as to depress anybody who remembers them with fondness. This is not helped by a lazy and contrived screenplay by Steven E. De Souza – a writer responsible for such genre classics as Commando, Die Hard, and Murphy’s breakout movie 48 Hrs – which not only cheapens the dynamics of the formula, but also forces its protagonists into sequences of sacrilegious tedium.
Franchise mainstay Detective Bogomil is conspicuous by his absence, but even more devastating is the non-participation of John Ashton’s Taggart, a longtime friend who Foley fails to even enquire about until a ready made clone pops in to remember the retired Sergeant’s legendary tales about the mischievous Detroit cop, before promptly reminding his guest that in Los Angeles – one of the most dangerous and corrupt city’s in the world – they play by the rules. If that wasn’t enough to tar the movie’s paradigm, Foley’s own boss is murdered less than ten minutes in, and the movie leaves us with no straight man for Foley to play off. The cast are simply resigned to their visitor’s methods – seemingly as bored as we are to be plunged into the Murphy mixer and a series of watered-down sketches of trite familiarity.
Another crime in characterisation is Reinhold’s Billy Rosewood, who is now responsible for overseeing the vast criminal underworld of Los Angeles. In the original Beverly Hills Cop, Rosewood’s role as a puerile detective in one of the world’s criminal epicentres was borderline dubious, but instead of maturing into his promotion, by the time part III come’s around he seems to have regressed almost into infancy, so inept and childlike his behaviour, and his role in the movie becomes increasingly hard to swallow.
Also returning for a supporting role is the flamboyant Serge, whose once novelty turn has become so tired you simply cannot wait for the same old mispronunciations to end as he conveniently turns up at an awards ceremony for the movie’s surreptitious antagonist, Ellis De Wald, played by Timothy Carhart, who manages to add a decent villain to proceedings in spite of everything. De Wald is using Disneyesque theme park Wonder World as a cover for his fraudulent excesses, and unable to shake our heroes advances, he tries to have Foley framed for the shooting of beloved Theme Park owner Uncle Dave.
For the first time – perhaps out of desperation for its diminished cast – Foley is given a love interest in the beautifully capable Theresa Randle, but asides from a promising interaction or two, their intimacy is barely given a chance to get off the ground. More than anything, what makes Beverly Hills Cop III such a tired affair is its paint-by-numbers execution. Appearing like shooting targets at a fairground, an inestimable amount of goons appear and disappear with such laborious and uninteresting regularity, you cannot wait for each action scene to end, but when they finally do you remember how predictable and half-arsed the comedy is, and by the time the three cops sit down for a bit of post battle chuckling, you’re kind of praying for one of those innumerable douchebags to crawl out of the debris and put a compassionate bullet between the eyes of our once cherished protagonist.
There was a time when Axel and Inspector Todd had a a wonderful onscreen relationship. Todd was the long-suffering mentor of a once relentless Foley, and although the latter spent most of the time in his superior’s bad books, there was an unspoken bond between the two which bordered on the father-son. When Todd is shot and killed, Foley hardly flinches as his old friend dies in his arms. In spite of this laziness, Todd’s death is perhaps the most pertinent event the film has to offer, and his parting line is classic Todd.
Most Absurd Moment
After escaping a whole army of theme park goons by taking an impromptu ride on a giant attraction, Foley is called into action when the mechanics malfunction, plunging two kids into vertical jeopardy. Jumping into action, Foley is first able to leap from carriage to carriage, before hang-sailing the kids to safety with a piece of cord which happens to be the exact length required, leaping out of the way of the falling carriage with the two kids still clinging to his frame.
Dying in Foley’s arms, Inspector Todd can think of only one thing to say as De Wald makes his escape.
Todd: ‘Axel, are you on a coffee break? Go and get that son of a bitch!’
Thanks in large to Murphy’s prodigious comedic talent, the original Axel was one of the most dynamic and best loved characters of the 1980’s, bringing an irresistible charm to the action genre and setting Beverly Hills Cop apart. This third instalment seems to actively defy everything which made the original formula such a winning one, dissolving every relationship and exhausting every sketch to the point of tedium, and it is clear from the very start that all of this hangs as heavy on our hero’s heart as it does our own.