In Retrospect – Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

The following is a Bite Sized Review I’ve written for Tom at Digital Shortbread. There can’t be many of you who hasn’t checked out what is one of the very best sites out there for movie reviews of all shapes and sizes. Tom’s site has come on leaps and bounds and I’m honoured to have been asked to contribute. Hope you enjoy this appreciation of the 80’s action comedy classic Beverly Hills Cop, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

It may seem difficult to believe to anyone under the age of 30, but once upon a time Eddie Murphy was the biggest movie star on the planet. Murphy may have torched his reputation with the likes of Norbit and Meet Dave, but during the 1980s he was seriously hot shit and none more so than in Beverly Hills Cop.

Beverly Hills Cop - the 80s at its near-best

Beverly Hills Cop – the 80s at its near-best

In one of those ‘what if?’ parallel universes that Hollywood seems to excel at (think Frank Sinatra being first choice for Dirty Harry), the project was originally due to star Mickey Rourke (that would have been… interesting) and then Sylvester Stallone, who pulled out two weeks before shooting was due to start. Murphy was drafted in at the 11th hour by legendary producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer for his first leading role and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part of wise cracking maverick Detroit detective Axel Foley, who heads west to the freak show that is Beverly Hills against the instructions of his hard-ass boss (played by Gil Hill) to investigate the death of his friend. His snooping not only rubs up against oily art dealer Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff) but also the Beverly Hills Police Department, specifically grizzled cop Taggart (John Ashton), his wide-eyed partner Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Lieutenant Bogomil (Ronny Cox).

Eddie Murphy at the top of his game in Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy at the top of his game in Beverly Hills Cop

The alchemy that Murphy and director Martin Brest conjure up out of a well-worn fish-out-of-water premise is just as irresistible 30 years on. Murphy simply owns the film and it’s testament to his chops as a performer that the movie can get away with switching from broad comedy to drama in the blink of an eye. Murphy’s trademark laugh is in full effect, as is his ability to maintain a straight face while spinning a line to whatever lackey stands in his way.

Beverly Hills Cop was among the first movies in which the soundtrack was as popular as the film itself and anyone who appreciates uplifting 80s music (and who doesn’t?) will be hard pressed not to smile when The Heat Is On kicks in. Let’s also not forget the talismanic Harold Faltermeyer’s synth-tastic score that helps glue the movie together.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) gets under the skin of Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) in Beverly Hills Cop

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) gets under the skin of Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) in Beverly Hills Cop

This isn’t just Murphy’s film, of course. Reinhold gives a warm performance as the naive Rosewood that perfectly complements Ashton’s grumbling turn as Taggart, while Bronson Pinchot is great as extravagant art gallery employee Serge. Also, keep an eye out for Damon Wayans in his debut role as a camp hotel employee.

On the negative side, the film has one of the worst stunt doubles ever. Check out 1h 4m in when Foley throws Maitland’s stony-faced goon (played by Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks) over a buffet table; it’s almost laughable.

Finally folks, I’ve always been left wondering whether a banana in the tailpipe would actually stop a car from driving properly. If anybody can put me out of my misery on that one I’d be grateful.

Four Frames – Trading Places (1983)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from John Landis’ comedy classic Trading Places.

It’s a pity it took the global financial crisis for politicians to wake up to the lessons espoused in Trading Places.

The legacy of John Landis’ 1983 classic screwball comedy is such that it inspired the so-called ‘Eddie Murphy rule’ contained within Obama’s 2010 Wall Street reform to stamp out the sort of shady insider trading depicted in the movie.

Trading Places

Sadly, it’s pretty much the only positive thing Murphy’s name has been attached to for many years, although back in the early 80s both he and fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus Dan Ackroyd were at the top of their game.

Murphy is superb as wise-cracking street hustler Billy Ray Valentine, who is lifted out of the gutter by super-rich schemers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) and unwittingly trades places with pampered commodities executive Louis Winthorpe III (a career-best turn by Ackroyd) to satisfy a bet over nature vs nurture.

Trading Places

Winthorpe affirms Randolph’s suspicion that he would “take to crime like a fish to water” if stripped of everything he holds dear by infiltrating the Duke’s Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus to frame Valentine, whom he holds responsible for his plight. When that backfires he’s left with nothing but a whisky bottle and a gun.

Landis earlier emphasises just how far Winthorpe has fallen (and makes a sly observation of how the poor might as well not exist in the eyes of the super-rich) by having him stand outside a restaurant getting pissed on by rain and dolefully looking in as Valentine hits it off at a business dinner.

Trading Places

Valentine, meanwhile, sees the Duke’s true colours when he overhears them gleefully discussing their “scientific experiment” and their illegal plans to corner the frozen concentrated orange juice market.

Perceiving that “the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people”, Valentine and Winthorpe team up to hit the Duke’s where it hurts.

Trading Places

Not for nothing is the film set in Philadelphia – the birthplace of the US Constitution where the idealism of equality and opportunity for all is thrown into stark relief by the opening credits which cut between the lowly 99% and super-rich as the city starts another day.

Just as in the comedies of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra, Trading Places has an old fashioned charm and a resonant political and societal message etched into each frame.

It also just goes to show how little has changed when a 30-year-old satirical comedy lampooning the unfettered capitalism and rampant hubris of Reagan-era big business feels as timely now as it did then.