Every Beverly Hills Cop Movie Ranked As Hollywood neared the midpoint of the 1980s, the industry had abandoned the risk-taking ethos of the 1970s and unabashedly embraced formula filmmaking. Stars still mattered, but the pitch was king. Studio executives keen on becoming their generation’s Jack Warner, Daryl Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer were through humoring unpredictable auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Hal Ashby. They wanted can’t-miss high-concept projects powered by high-wattage stars that could play for months on end in theaters because, despite the skyrocketing value of home video and pay cable channels, theatrical was still king. “Beverly Hills Cop” traversed a rocky path from inception to production, but producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer doggedly developed and re-developed the project until they paired a 23-year-old comedy superstar with a once-hot director who’d two years prior gotten himself fired off “WarGames.” The particulars of the fish-out-of-water plot shifted many times over the years (it was nearly a deathly serious action vehicle for Sylvester Stallone), but the basic framework remained the same: a street-smart urban cop wreaks havoc in the chi-chi confines of Beverly Hills while looking to nail the murderer of his childhood friend. Everything about “Beverly Hills Cop” worked. Critics carped that the film squandered an exciting young talent, but moviegoers couldn’t get enough of Eddie Murphy as the troublemaking Detroit police officer Axel Foley. When the R-rated film dethroned “Ghostbusters” as the top grossing film of 1984, Paramount (after briefly considering a TV spinoff) ordered up a sequel. And another. And then… nothing. With Murphy set to tear up the upscale neighborhood once again in Netflix’s “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F,” let’s rank the three previous films and ponder why it took 30 years to reunite the Detroit detective back in front of the camera. 3. Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) This was a film made out of necessity. Murphy had been up and down since the box-office disappointment of “Harlem Nights,” he sleepwalked through “Another 48 Hrs.,” scored a minor comeback with “Boomerang,” and went back to autopilot for “The Distinguished Gentleman.” And yet, even at his most uninspired, we could still see glimmers of the kid genius who single-handedly saved “Saturday Night Live” in the early 1980s. Perhaps donning his Detroit Lions jacket once more would reignite his comedic fire. And perhaps not. There was hope that a re-teaming with his “Trading Places” and “Coming to America” director John Landis might get Murphy off his creative skid, but the star had a vastly different vision for his third go-round as Foley. He wanted to play the character as a less smart-alecky adult. While no one could fault Murphy for wanting to prove his serious acting chops (which he eventually did two decades later in “Dreamgirls”), a summer tentpole sequel was a weird place to do it. “Beverly Hills Cop III” has its moments (the opening scene featuring a couple of mechanics singing and dancing to the Supremes’ “Come See About Me” is delightfully silly), Murphy mostly held true to his word. We keep waiting for the showstopping riffs, but, aside from Foley breaking up a black-tie function honoring the film’s cop-killing villain, the highlights are mostly Landis’ obligatory director cameos (George Lucas’ appearance is especially unexpected). Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza claims he wrote the film as “‘Die Hard’ in a theme park,” which could’ve been action-comedy gold with an engaged Murphy. Instead, the film meanders from one sweaty set piece to another, with Judge Reinhold and Bronson Pinchot straining for yuks. Murphy would recover professionally with 1996’s “The Nutty Professor,” but this effectively killed the Foley franchise at Paramount. 2. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) This is Murphy at his absolute cockiest. While it was a relief to see the star get back to his R-rated roots after the PG-13 shrug of “The Golden Child,” his riffs are nowhere near as clever or convulsively funny as they were in the first film. Johnny Wishbone? The Rap Coalition of America? Only Murphy could make these bits work, and, even then, we’re laughing more at the brazen silliness of these concepts than Foley’s ability to bullsh*t his way out of a tight spot. This is another revenge plot, but once you get past the unlikely notion that Foley became the best of friends with his initially adversarial Beverly Hills counterparts in Taggert (John Ashton), Rosewood (Reinhold) and Bogomil (Ronny Cox), it proves to be a generally worthy (if strangely mean-spirited) successor to the original. The MVP here is Tony Scott, who, hot off the cultural phenomenon of “Top Gun,” flaunts the magic-hour flash that would define his work throughout the first phase of his career. It’s an expertly lensed feast of practically-shot action sequences that never feels like it’s breaking stride to let Murphy do his smartass thing. Jürgen Prochnow and Brigitte Nielsen’s Eurotrash villains presaged Alan Rickman’s band of snazzily dressed thieves in “Die Hard,” while rising stand-up stars like Chris Rock (a Murphy discovery) and Gilbert Gottfried get to steal the odd scene from the star. But the swaggering energy of this high-octane sequel is all Murphy. The film received outright hostile reviews from some of the nation’s top critics, but Murphy was the King of Hollywood. The only person who could stop Eddie was Eddie (and he’d eventually get around to that). 1. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) This was 1984’s second lightning-in-a-bottle instant classic after Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters,” and, like that film, it generally eschews studio soundstages for on-location authenticity. After a masterfully edited opening credit sequence that immerses us in the urban grit-and-grind of mid-’80s Detroit, we get a gleefully chaotic semi-truck chase through car-cluttered city streets. An event of this ludicrous magnitude would’ve led every major network’s evening news broadcast, but director Martin Brest makes this feel like just another calamitous day in the Motor City. It’s also just the latest debacle triggered by Axel Foley, who we’re told is a promising young detective, even though, time and again, we watch him barge into situations without a plan and, often, without any evidence to justify his incursions. Like convict Reggie Hammond in “48 Hrs.,” Murphy’s Foley gets away with it via bullsh*t and experience. And somehow, even in this age of criminal over-policing, we let him get away with it. Brest was new to this scale of studio filmmaking, but he comes off as an old pro. He knows that Murphy at his best when bouncing off exasperated straight men, and he cast two of the best in Ashton and Reinhold. The Foley of “Beverly Hills Cop” is so much more likable than the conceited brat of “Beverly Hills Cop II.” Yes, he’s a procedure-flouting nightmare, but he cuts his antics with a genuine sweetness. Foley was evidently a hellion in his youth, but he didn’t let the mean streets of Detroit blot out his basic sense of decency. He’s hardened for sure, but he’s out to stick up for the underdog. He cares. Murphy was always going to be one of the biggest stars on the planet, but this was our introduction to the nice guy behind the mouth. It’s a perfect star turn in a perfect movie.
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