Beverly Hills Cop is by far Eddie Murphy's most popular role, and the movie that officially launched his career as a genuine movie star. It was one of those movies that my dad would let my brother and I watch on weekends, after my mom made him promise not to show us any rated R movies, and over the years it's easy to forget the level of violence and profanity in it that earned it that forbidding rating. Of course, as a kid I was just excited that I was getting to see something that I shouldn't, but in retrospect I tend to think that it was this combination of clever comedy and the ingredients from harder action thrillers that ensured Beverly Hills Cop's status as a cop comedy classic.
You see, Foley has a bit of a criminal past of his own, but he is clearly much more at home on the right side of the law, and he uses his experiences in crime to his advantage in working his way into the criminal underworld, where he routinely attempts to bring down major crime ring kingpins. One day an old friend comes to visit him after having been released from prison and spending some time relaxing in the California sun. The two have a great time at the bar recounting their old criminal days together, until we learn that this guy, who once took the fall for one of Axel's crimes and served prison time for him without ever mentioning his name, now has stolen bearer bonds with him worth millions. Before long the owner of the bonds shows up and is not in a reminiscent mood. Axel is knocked out as they're staggering back to his apartment for the night, and he wakes up to find his friend murdered.
The movie follows one of the biggest 1980s action movie cliches to the letter. Every single line is here, 'take some time off,' 'stay away from this case,' 'if you go after this guy don't bother calling in on Monday,' etc. My eyes tend to glaze over whenever I hear this situation in a movie, probably because I work so much and in such situations can only think of how great it would be if my bosses told me to take some time off, go on vacation, don't let them catch me working or they'll fire me. But Foley's trip to Beverly Hills to perform his own investigation yields results so promising that it keeps the movie moving along at a pretty fast pace. Of course we realize the real life odds of a police officer traveling to the other side of the country and immediately stumbling across the major crime organization that he's looking for, but Murphy's quick-talking wit and street-wise charm makes it pretty easy to root for him.
The movie has the perfect premise to combine with Murphy's personality he's an urban cop from Detroit named Axel Foley who is always driving his boss insane because he doesn't wait for piddly things like authorization when he wants to do major undercover work. The movie opens with one of these undercover and under the radar missions, which culminates in the police being called and then a major car chase through city and residential streets that must have caused millions of dollars in damage. Of course, when the cops have Axel at gunpoint, he gives them a grin and they shake their heads and lower their guns. Aw shucks, it's that crazy Foley again!
Judge Reinhold and John Ashton play Detectives Rosewood and Taggart, two of Beverly Hillss finest who are assigned to keep an eye on Foley and make sure he doesn't start doing police work while a dozen states or so outside his jurisdiction, from which he's suspended anyway. So Foley moves around among the Ferraris and BMWs and Mercedeses of Beverly Hills in his ancient, beat up Chevy Nova, cheerfully laughing at Taggart's and Rosewood's bumbling efforts to tail him and doing his investigation right under their noses.
In the standard buddy cop movie sitcom, you have two wildly different people thrown together in a police partnership situation and forced to work together. This was a staple of the 1980s and has remained popular to this day, with classic movies like Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash, 48 hours (one of Murphy's own earlier comedies), Red Heat, Rush Hour (could two cops ever be more different than Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan?), and possibly my favorite, Hot Fuzz. And of course I shouldn't forget Bad Boys, which may very well have so much in common with Beverly Hills Cop as to warrant suspicion of plagiarism. I'll let it go though. I'm sure Eddie Murphy doesn't mind. Anyway, Beverly Hills Cop does follow all of the basic rules of your standard buddy cop movie, but somehow manages to avoid feeling like a formula film.
The combination of Axel's determination to avenge his friend's murder is juxtaposed with hilarious situations involving Taggart and Rosewood trying in vain to keep an eye on him, as well as various police organizations tearing their hair out trying to keep him under control. Picture the police chief in Last Action Hero, a bad movie for which I maintain a certain affection, and make him intelligible and add a lot of profanity and you'll get some idea of what's going on here. I don't know that Beverly Hills Cop can quite be called a comedy classic, but it is definitely an action comedy classic.
Also keep your eye out for the hilarious cameo from Bronson Pinchot, who you may remember as Balki from Perfect Strangers! Eleventh best TV show ever!