Directed By: Martin Brest
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton
Tag line: "The Heat Is On!"
Trivia: Other actors who were considered for the role of Axel Foley were Al Pacino and James Caan
Both 48 Hrs and Trading Places helped make Eddie Murphy a star, but it was 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop that launched him into the stratosphere, showing the world how talented a comedian he truly was while, at the same time, establishing him as one of the decades biggest box-office draws.
Murphy plays Axel Foley, a Detroit Cop who, following the murder of his best pal Mikey (James Russo), heads to Beverly Hills to track down his killer. Aided by Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), an old friend from Detroit who operates a prestigious art gallery, Axel discovers that Mikey had been working at a warehouse owned by wealthy California businessman Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). When Axel barges into Maitland’s office demanding answers, he’s arrested by the LAPD and shuttled off to jail.
Out of respect for the fact he’s a fellow policeman, Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox) releases Axel from custody, though at the same time warns him not to practice law enforcement so far from home. To ensure he stays on the straight and narrow, Bogomil assigns Detectives Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) to keep an eye on their colleague from Detroit, but after delving into some of Maitland’s so-called “business” dealings, Axel remains more determined than ever to bring the shady millionaire to justice.
To say Beverly Hills Cop gets off to a great start is an understatement. Following a funny scene where the fast-talking Axel, working undercover, tries to sell a truckload of stolen cigarettes to a couple of crooks, there’s an exciting chase through the crowded streets of Detroit, with one of the thugs, in an attempt to avoid the cops, driving the truck at full speed, crashing it into one vehicle after another as Axel holds on for dear life in the back. A thrilling action sequence (well-handled by director Martin Brest), this opening also establishes that Axel Foley is a wise-ass who doesn’t always follow the rules (he’s chewed out by his commanding officer, played with gusto by Gilbert R. Hill, for conducting an undercover operation without departmental approval).
It was a role tailor-made for the charismatic Murphy, who, with his rapid-fire delivery and impeccable timing, makes us laugh in damn near every scene; even a brief exchange with Jenny’s flamboyant assistant Serge (Bronson Pinchot), which barely lasts a minute, is comic gold (though, the be fair, Pinchot is equally as hilarious in that scene). And much like he did in 48 Hrs, Murphy handles the movie’s action with the greatest of ease (at a strip club, Axel spots a couple of shifty characters who clearly intend to rob the place, and with the help of Taggart and Rosewood, he disarms the crooks before they can squeeze off a shot).
The supporting performances are also strong; Ashton and Reinhold generate some laughs as the mismatched partners (Taggert is a hard-ass veteran, Rosewood a naïve rookie), and despite a quick departure from the movie, James Russo’s heartfelt turn as Mikey brings weight to a character we barely get to know. In addition to its fine cast, the film’s action sequences are out of this world (aside from the opening chase, the grand finale is pretty damn exciting); and the music, from the techno awesomeness of Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F to such up-tempo numbers as Glenn Frey’s The Heat is On and Patti Labelle’s New Attitude, helped carry the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop (released by MCA Records) all the way to #1 on the Billboard 200 Chart.
But as good as the rest of the movie is, without Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop would have been a run-of-the-mill ‘80s action / comedy. With him, it ranks alongside Big Trouble in Little China, The Blues Brothers, Back to the Future, and the actor’s own 48 Hrs as one of the decade’s best.