Episode: 8 Beverly Hills Cops

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In This Episode:
Chris and Allen take a foul mouthed look at the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy. The first film, directed by Martin Brest, was a box office mega smash, which would close out 1984 as the highest grossing movie of the year, holding off strong competition from both Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters. With the success of Cop I and two previous hits to his name, 48 Hrs (1982) and Trading Places (1983)  – not forgetting one bomb, in Best Defense (1984), Eddie Murphy had cemented his place as one of the biggest stars on the planet. An electric presence on screen, usually cast as a fast talking, street-smart, wiseass who is always one step ahead. The 80’s were his for the taking. Cop II would hit screens in 1987, directed by Tony Scott a director who’s highly stylized, amped-up entry in the franchise was the epitome of “sequel” in the 1980’s. Bigger, louder and more brash (also a little bit more sexist) than the original. In large part due its leading man Cop II was another giant hit, although not critically well received it took $300 million worldwide on a $20 million budget.

Murphy’s successful box office run stalled right at the decades end with Harlem Nights (1989). Written, directed and starring Murphy alongside one of his personal heroes Richard Pryor. Into the nineties and a run of poorly received efforts failed to capture the success of his earlier movies, so returning to the role of Axel Foley may have seemed like a smart move for Murphy.

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The Movies:

The initial outing saw Eddie Murphy as Detroit police detective Axel Foley out to find his friend’s killer. The clues lead to LA where his street smart cop butts heads with the local by-the-book Beverly Hills PD. Through sheer force of personality and actual detective work Foley earns the begrudging respect of his West Coast counterparts Rosewood, Taggart and Bogomil (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton and Ronny Cox) as he takes down shady art, and drug, dealer Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff).

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Cameraman and crane clearly visible in a Beverly Hills Cop II chase scene.

In the sequel a planned fishing holiday with the old team is sidelined when Captain Bogomil is gunned down and left for dead in the street. Axel returns to the 90210 zip code and re-teams with Taggart and Rosewood for a fast paced, explosive retread that swaps drugs for guns as Foley and chums go up against a crew of big money gun runners on their way to avenge Bogomil.

Ten years after the original Axel, still a Detroit Detective, leads a raid on an illegal chop-shop. When the simple operation turns into a deadly shoot out, and Inspector Todd  is killed, the clues lead back to the City of Angels, however not to Beverly Hills. This time the organized criminals are operating out of a Disney style fun park, nothing as hard bitten as an art dealership or gun club fronts, now the trail for Axel’s vengeance leads to “The Happiest Place On Earth”.

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Women are barely present in this franchise. Jenny, played by Lisa Eilbacher in Cop I, was written as the love interest for Foley in earlier drafts, however even in 1983 it would have been too daring for a mainstream blockbuster to have it’s black lead and a white women couple off. By the sequel both Taggart and Axel have developed a sexist edge, maybe reflecting Murphy’s own views as seen in his stand up concert film ,Raw, from the same year. Objectifying frosty blonde Brigette Neilsen, surely the pinnacle of Simpson & Bruckheimer fantasies, and the women at the Playboy Mansion seems to be fine with everyone. At least there is some tender, platonic, friendship on display with Bogomil’s daughter (Alice Adair). Beyond the only two named female characters the cast list reads of Gun Club Receptionist, Stripper #1, Stripper #2, Girl at Club and several Playboy Playmates!  The third film finally sees Foley complete the leading man in an action film cliche of getting the girl, killing the baddies and save the entire planet Fun Park! As he finds love in Wonderworld. His coded inqury of “how long has the ride been closed?” enough to seal that deal.

Are You On A Coffee Break?

The 1980’s had, for the first time in popular culture, black men as both the biggest popstar and biggest movie stars on the planet ( Michael Jackson and undeniably Eddie Murphy). Interesting that the success they individually attained would be the most destructive thing both men would struggle to overcome. Surrounded by an entourage of yes men and rich beyond imagining it must be a quick path to loose touch with the real world.

 Murphy has never seemingly fought with any of the usual addictions common among celebrities. Instead money would appear to be his only vice, occasionally sex would lead to trouble in later life. Crucially, what made Eddie so likeable in the movies was his underdog status. Always seemingly having everything against him, his quick wit and fast mouth could get him out of any situation. Nobody wants to get behind a gajillionare who is told every day he’s the coolest, referred to by his staff as The King and called Money by his friends. His rise to success was followed by a bloated fall before finding his, now natural, hit and miss level in kid friendly fare that lasts to today.

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Get The Fuck Outta Here:

Cop III saw an older, slightly desperate, Eddie Murphy cynically banking on nostalgia for the character being enough to craft a box office hit. It hadn’t quite worked in 1990 with the critically reviled Another 48hrs. The Axel in Cop III is not the Axel from Cop I with Murphy giving a performance that swings wildly from mugging to sleepy-eyed grimacing. It has been mentioned that Murphy wanted to be seen as a serious action star like Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes. Stars that played it straight and rose to prominence in the wake of Eddie Murphy.

Whether faking flower deliveries or warehouse inspections Foley’s mouth got him into and out of endless scrapes. In the third film we endure him paying entry to a fun park! It’s like the script writer (Steven DeSouza – Die Hard) director (John Landis- Blues Brothers, American Werewolf In London etc.) and Murphy didn’t bother to re-watch the first two before making 3. How could fishing buddies not be aware about each others job/retirement? And where was Bogomil? And would Foley really remember Serge? Why was there was no mention of Jenny after the first films credits rolled? Would Foley really fall in love with, park attendant, Janice (Theresa Randall) after three minor meet-cutes? Is a disused fairground ride an appropriate place for a counterfeiting ring?  Why would anyone evading capture get on a circular ride that doesn’t go anywhere, and why didn’t George Lucas just get into the next cage on the ride he’d queued for? The FBI agent is a bad guy? Why do you need a fax machine on a giant gun? What the fuck is going on here?

The subtle satire of the working class Axel one upping the LA elite had slipped, over the franchise, into the broadest of comedic takes on race relations. An major action film with a black lead, made only two years after the LA Riots, only satirical jab was to bring back a one note joke cameo from the first film. Bronson Pinchot’s Serge no longer sells abstract and modernist art to the rich, now he sells panicked suburbanites ridiculous weapons for home defense.

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Yes, Fuck You Too!

John Landis and Eddie Murphy first worked together on Trading Places (1983). Which was made soon after the director had been involved in a lengthy, and highly publicized, trial stemming from the onset deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, during filming of a segment on the Twilight Zone Movie (1983).

Murphy felt he had done John Landis a great favor by hiring him for their second project together, Coming To America (1988). In his mind he saved Landis’ career from the backlash from the trail. But beyond being the end of his relationship with, Twilight Zone producer, Steven Speilberg there wasn’t much fallout for the director. It should also be noted that Landis, for his part, has never admitted culpability for the accident.

By 1988 Eddie Murphy’s career was on a roll and he was living life of a spoiled and coddled star. Landis describes the actor as being “a pig; he was so rude to people” but added that they still worked well together. It is well documented that Landis and Murphy clashed on the set of ‘America, the last great movie of Eddie’s first flush of success. By Murphy’s own account the situation came to a head due to a perceived lack of respect from Landis. Having directed Murphy “when he was a kid” the director was accused of still treating him as such, the star feeling he should have had more reverence due to Eddie’s box office successes. The film was completed even with the frosty atmosphere between star and director and became another hit for Murphy.

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A few box office disappointments in the early nineties was enough for Murphy to reach out to the director that had given him two previous smashes, and at the same time extend an olive branch. While the relationship is described as professional during production, Landis states [Eddie Murphy] just wasn’t funny. I would try to put him in funny situations, and he would find a way to step around them. He said, “You know, John… Axel Foley is an adult now. He’s not a wiseass anymore.”

John Landis is a great raconteur and is a true disciple of Hollywood. He covers many of the topics written here and much more in a two part interview with Collider (Part I, Part II) and on the Kevin Pollack Chat Show.

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 Special Mention:

Sadly since our initial recording for this episode Gil Hill passed away in February 2016. Hill appeared in all three Cop movies as the irascible Inspector Todd, Axel Foley’s boss. His real life work as a police officer in the Detroit Police Department lent itself to memorable and convincing turn as a hardened veteran cop. His distinguished law enforcement career began as a sheriff’s deputy in 1957. Moving to Detroit in 1959 where he was promoted as a  homicide detective a decade later. Hill would be promoted to the rank of Inspector in charge of the Homicide Division by the early 80’s and finally retired from the force in 1989 at the rank of Commander. He had said the only difference between his popular character and himself was that he didn’t curse in real life.

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Coming Soon:

Just in time for Halloween Chris & Allen thought it appropriate to look at their first horror franchise of the series, and not the obvious one. Next episode we take a look at the first three Friday the 13th movies and watch the development of one of the most iconic characters in horror cinema.

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All clips in the episode are used under Fair Use for the purposes of criticism and are not intended to diminish the original works or limit the ability of the copyright owners to market or sell their product.

How did we do? Did we miss something, get something wrong or is there a franchise you’d like us to cover? Let us know. Comment below or email diminishingpod@gmail.com

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