Beverly Hills Cop was a double-edged sword for Eddie Murphy, who saw his popularity take a sudden nosedive following his departure from SNL and the release of the near-unwatchable military comedy Best Defense co-starring Dudley Moore. Originally meant for a post-First Blood Sylvester Stallone, Beverly Hills Cop revolved solely around Murphy’s character, alleviating any misgivings he may have about his on-screen chemistry with a co-star. His character, Axel Foley, was not completely unlike his characters in his previous features save for the key reversal that, rather than playing a charming prisoner, he was now an unconventional Detroit police officer. Feigning a vacation to the titular city, Axel goes about the business of figuring out how a stack of German bearer bonds lled to the brutal shooting of his best friend, who was employed by a shady art dealer and philanthropist, Victor Maitland (a leisurely sinister Steven Berkoff), working out of Beverly Hills.
As it is with many of its innumerable scions, Brest’s film indulges in a lot of talk about “jurisdiction” and “regulations,” words meant to stir conflict and give Murphy something to rebel against, but the key to the film’s successes is that Murphy doesn’t take anything, not even his rebellion, that seriously. His sojourn is compromised largely of hijinks meant to outsmart the LAPD, though he begins to warm to at least two of their officers, Taggart and Rosewood (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold, an enjoyable sparring pair). Murphy, in fact, shares less than a half-dozen scenes with Berkoff, and even less with the great Ronny Cox, playing Taggart and Rosewood’s straight-and-narrow Captain, which leaves plenty of time for Murphy to play off of numerous La-La Land stereotypes, not to mention poke fun at race, language, class, sexuality, and, at one point at least, himself.
Written by Daniel Petrie Jr., Beverly Hills Cop is a film of minor ambitions that it consistently meets, thanks to Brest’s just-north-of-competent abilities as a director. As much as the film ensured Murphy’s stardom, it also secured Brest’s vanilla career, which subsequently hit a plateau before being shot down in flames with the justly maligned Gigli. His most negligible triumph with Beverly Hills Cop, his second feature, is his ability to balance Murphy’s comedic outbursts with both a sense of community and a sense of legitimate danger, a task at which Brest failed miserably to repeat with the immensely dull Midnight Run. In this film, however, the balance is nearly note-perfect: The climactic shoot-out at Maitland’s compound is a strong piece of action filmmaking, and the grizzly fashion in which Axel’s friend is murdered sets up a sense of dire consequences from the outset.
Murphy owns the show, but he’s certainly not the only actor worth watching here. Brest fits his film with an engaging cast, rounded out by lively nonprofessional Gilbert Hall in the excellent bit part of Axel’s superior, Inspector Todd, and Lisa Eilbacher as an old friend of Axel’s who also works for Maitland. Famously scored by Harold Faltermeyer’s playful, bouncy synths, the film conjures up, among other things, a sense of middle-income workers doing their jobs in the City of the Angels, as the rich indulge in their eccentric habits and highly illegal hobbies. This coy sense of class warfare carried over nicely to the sequel (helmed by Tony Scott), but became outright silly in the series’s third installment, which was mainly—and ridiculously—set in an amusement park.
The sequels (even the second film) have faded over time, but Beverly Hills Cop remains a smartly paced action-comedy hybrid that has won out over its successors and many similar properties. Last year saw two notable failures that openly owed a great debt to Brest’s film, Kevin Smith’s Cop Out and The Other Guys, both of which were wretchedly uneven in their action-film theatrics and outlandish comedy set pieces. Beverly Hills Cop may be the devil in disguise for summoning such unkempt, unfunny trash, and it’s been a long time since Murphy could be construed as relevant, but one looks back at this film and sees an astoundingly talented performer in his prime, a star on the rise, and all the duds almost seem worth it.
Paramount’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is problematic, but not unwatchable by any means. In fact, the major flaws here are things that a casual viewer would probably never notice, such as more than a few instances of edge enhancement and some background noise. Color is only marginally impressive, but that has more to do with the filmmaking than Paramount’s transfer, and there are no signs of compression or noise reduction. Detailing is solid, as are black levels, and the only instances of print damage I noticed are almost too minor to even point out. There’s also a healthy level of film grain. The sound is also not very impressive, but serviceable. The mix is negligibly unbalanced, with sound effects and ambience getting a dull, undetailed transfer on the soundtrack. Dialogue and Harold Faltermeyer’s excellent score come across strongly, if not as bold as one might have hoped for. Again, it works, but the film deserves better.
A generous but largely redundant and superfluous portion of extras adorns this Beverly Hills Cop Blu-ray. The only really essential thing here is the "The Phenomenon Begins" featurette, which details the genesis of the script, how it was contorted to fit original star Sylvester Stallone, how the producers got director Martin Brest and Eddie Murphy to do it, the production itself, and its reception. The commentary by Brest is fine—he talks shop about certain props and staging problems—and has its moments of genuine interest, but it largely goes over similar things as the aforementioned featurette. The casting featurette is utterly useless, whereas the music featurette is at the very least entertaining. Also included: a location map of Los Angeles and the film’s theatrical trailer.
A critical turning point for Eddie Murphy and chief relic of the comedian’s salad days, Beverly Hills Cop’s emergence on Blu-ray is barely a step up from its DVD treatment.