Ever since Chevy Chase left the show in 1976 to seek greener pastures, Saturday Night Live castmembers have dreamt of becoming movie stars. Many of them have achieved this goal, and while the road is littered with SNL-related flops, its performers have certainly appeared in a slew of hits.
1984 stands as the greatest year ever for SNL alumni. That year all of the three top-grossing flicks included at least one former Not Ready For Prime Time player. Third on that last fell Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with $179 million. It also featured the smallest role for an SNL veteran, as we barely saw Dan Aykroyd in a quick cameo.
Aykroyd appeared again along with fellow SNL player Bill Murray in the year’s biggest hit. Ghostbusters grabbed a very healthy $238 million as it made Murray one of the world’s top stars.
In regard to grosses, the third flick fell between these two, though it came very close to Ghostbusters. Starring Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop hit screens near the end of the year, and it very nearly dethroned Ghostbusters as the box office champ. Cop eventually snagged a tidy $234 million, which left it a mere $4 million beneath Ghostbusters. That’s a pretty tight horserace, something highlighted by the fact that the two films still reside right next to each other on the list of all-time top-grossing movies; as I write this, Ghostbusters is 23rd while Cop is 24th.
Coincidentally, I also think of the movies in very similar terms. Neither did a lot for me during their theatrical runs, but not long after that, I developed a strong affection for both on video. Ghostbusters and Cop have been two of my favorite comedies for many years now.
As such, I may be biased, but I still think Cop offers a very entertaining experience. It follows the adventures of Detroit police officer Axel Foley (Murphy). At the film’s start, we quickly learn that he’s a talented cop who uses unconventional methods that irritate his boss, Inspector Todd (Gilbert R. Hill).
After getting chewed out again, Axel returns to his seedy apartment where he finds Mikey (James Russo), a childhood friend who’d been jailed for years. The two enjoy a brief but happy reunion during which Axel learns that prison didn’t rehabilitate Mikey; he’s stolen some bonds from his LA-based employer. The chickens quickly come home to roost, as enforcer Zack (Jonathan Banks) catches up with Mikey and executes him.
A loyal friend, Axel gets cheesed when Todd gives another officer the investigation. As such, he decides to go to the source; Foley uses vacation time to drive to Beverly Hills and find out some things for himself. There he hooks up with another old friend named Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher). She’s the one who got Mikey the job as security for art maven Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). He learns more about her boss and talks with him in person, an action that gets him forcibly evicted from Maitland’s office - thrown through a glass window.
Oddly, the Beverly Hills police arrest Axel for this, which starts his involvement with that group. Lieutenant Bogomil (Ronny Cox) warns Axel not to pursue the case, but he knows Foley will do so anyway, so he puts cops Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) on his tail. This leads to a series of shenanigans as the more intelligent and savvy Axel gives them the slip and furthers his investigation.
Essentially, the rest of the flick follows this thread. Foley finds out more to implicate Maitland as a drug smuggler, and the local police slowly start to warm to his side of things, though they’re reluctant partners. All of this builds toward a big action climax at which time the various concerns will be resolved.
On the negative side, some parts of Cop haven’t aged terribly well. Granted, one expects the various fashions to mature awkwardly, with the primary victim being poor Eilbacher and her poofy hairstyles. At times, the movie’s tone comes across problematically, mostly due to the combination of cheesy pop tunes and violence. The truck chase early in the flick seemed wild and wacky 17 years ago, but now it just looks silly.
However, I think Cop still works very well, largely due to the performers. Cop represents Murphy at his absolute peak. By 1984, he’d experienced a lot of success, but he didn’t become a true movie star until Cop, so he remained hungry. After this, he bought into the hype too an absurd degree. His next movie - 1986’s The Golden Child - virtually tried to deify Murphy, and in between, he had attempted to be a pop star with his disastrous How Can It Be? album. It didn’t do well.
Murphy’s post-Cop popularity sent him into a narcissistic spiral that he didn’t escape until 1996 with The Nutty Professor. He’s done some excellent work over the last five years, and in a variety of ways, he’s actually been better than he was in his early years. He offered an absolutely stellar dual performance in 1999’s Bowfinger, and he also impressed me with his multiple parts in 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.
However, Cop provided the perfect example of Murphy as leading man. As Axel Foley in the first flick, he mixed street sense, intelligence and charisma to ideal levels that made the character immensely entertaining and appealing. One thing I like about Murphy’s take on Foley is that he’s earthy and believable but he doesn’t become stereotypically black or ghetto. He’s a smart and savvy African-American who seems real and secure in any environment. Many actors would go out of their way to make the character seem overtly “black”, but Murphy had the confidence to avoid those traps. It’s a consistently excellent performance that elevated some otherwise tepid material.
The supporting cast helped as well. Eilbacher seems a bit bland as Jenny, and it’s rather hard to imagine her childhood-self hanging out with teen hoods Axel and Mikey, but she makes an apt foil for Murphy during a few scenes. Berkoff creates a suitably oily villain, and Banks’ Zack is a memorably slimy guy as well.
Probably best of the bunch, however, are Reinhold and Ashton. They offer many fun scenes of their own, which are really the only amusing sequences that don’t involve Murphy; it’s hard not to like the vaguely Tarantino-esque nattering between the two during their stakeout. As with Murphy, both actors fill out the roles to a degree they wouldn’t achieve in later renditions. (Actually, to be fair, Ashton seems fine in Cop II, but Reinhold’s character goes through nonsensical changes for the two sequels.)
Perhaps those new to Beverly Hills Cop won’t get much from it; the movie’s been a favorite for so long that it’s tough for me to see it objectively. Nonetheless, despite some dated elements, I still think it’s a funny and entertaining piece that continues to work largely due to an excellent lead performance from Eddie Murphy. The film shows the actor at his best and should let people see how he became such a big star.
Beverly Hills Cop appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture seemed decent but unexceptional.
I should note that some of the issues I found related to the original photography. I’ve seen Cop many times over the year, so I recognize its “look”. The DVD replicated the material well as a whole, but it had some inherent problems that made the movie look less than terrific at times.
Probably the biggest issue related to lighting. Murphy used to do a stand-up routine that discussed the poor treatment dark-skinned performers receive in that regard; I don’t know if his experiences with Cop influenced his act, but it sure could have, as it consistently offered an image that left Murphy stuck in the shadows. Low-light sequences created a number of problems, as they also appeared grainier than the rest of the film. However, the lack of visibility accorded the movie’s star offered the most significant concern, as we often simply could not see Murphy with any clarity. Even some daytime scenes cast him in the shadows! For the white actors, shadow detail looked acceptable, but Murphy didn’t fare as well. Black levels also came across as somewhat murky at times.
Sharpness generally seemed reasonably good. A few shots came across as a little soft and fuzzy, but these occurred infrequently. For the most part, the movie appeared acceptably distinct and accurate. A little shimmering occurred on occasion, but the image largely lacked moiré effects, and I saw no issues related to jagged edges or edge enhancement.
Print flaws never created extreme problems, but they popped up periodically. The film lacked any large defects like scratches, blotches or tears, but a moderate amount of niggling concerns such as speckles and grit could be seen through a fair amount of the movie. In addition, the picture seemed somewhat grainy at times.
Colors came across as reasonably clear much of the time, but they also could be a bit flat and bland on occasion. For the most part, the hues seemed acceptably distinct and vivid, although they never really reached a level of terrific clarity. Frankly, a lot of the problems I saw during Cop related to its era; quite a few flicks from the Eighties used film stock that simply looks dull and lifeless to a degree. Add to that the poor lighting for Murphy’s scenes, and you have source material with many marks against it. The transfer for Cop largely replicated the original flick well, but there’s a limit to how good it can look.
Similar thoughts occur for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop. Actually, I have fond memories of this film on tape, as it was one of the first stereo presentations I ever heard at home. Of course, what impressed me in 1985 seems pretty weak in 2002. Overall, the mix for Cop appeared adequate for its era, but it came across as a somewhat lackluster piece as a whole.
Not surprisingly, the mix stayed heavily anchored to the front speakers. In that spectrum, I heard reasonably good stereo separation and imaging for the music, and effects also spread across the forward channels to a positive degree. At times those elements came across as somewhat speaker-specific, but they usually blended together in a fairly pleasing manner, and effects moved cleanly across them.
Surround usage appeared to be extremely negligible. At most the rear speakers offered general reinforcement of the score and perhaps some mild ambient effects. When I said this sucker stayed oriented toward the front, I wasn’t kidding!
Audio quality was erratic but generally solid. Dialogue occasionally displayed some edginess, but speech usually seemed reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects also demonstrated periodic bouts of distortion; explosions and gunfire provided the most notable examples of these concerns. Otherwise, those elements sounded acceptably clean and accurate, though they never displayed terribly positive range.
Early in the film, the music seemed oddly restricted. “The Heat Is On” and “Neutron Dance” came across as though their high-end frequencies had been mildly chopped off, and the songs sounded somewhat flat and muffled. However, this problem largely evaporated in short order, and most of the music appeared acceptably well defined and robust. The track remained somewhat muddy at times, but it usually presented the score and the songs with fairly good fidelity. Overall, the soundtrack for Cop showed its age, but it still seemed to fall within the acceptable range for an aging movie.
On this “Special Collector’s Edition”, we find a mix of extras, starting with an audio commentary from director Martin Brest. He appears alone for this running, screen-specific track. As with many commentaries found on Paramount DVDs, this one suffers from quite a few dead spots. Brest starts well and offers a lot of useful and engaging material during the early parts of the film. However, after a while he begins to sag, and the track becomes less interesting. The gaps increase in length and frequency, and the remarks themselves seem more mundane.
Nonetheless, he does give us a fair amount of compelling material, and he picks up considerably during the flick’s climax. He relates some debates that occurred along the way, and we find out why the movie’s ending freeze-frame - which he openly despises - appeared in the final piece. Overall, it’s definitely a spotty track, but it has enough worthwhile information to merit a listen.
Next we get Beverly Hills Cop: The Phenomenon Begins, a new 29-minute and 15-second documentary about the film. We find a little footage from the set, but mainly it offers movie clips and interviews. We hear from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Martin Brest, writers Danilo Bach and Dan Petrie, editor Billy Weber, and actors Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, and Ronny Cox. All of the participants seem to have been shot specifically for this piece except for Murphy; the credits indicate that his footage comes from Fox, so I’d speculate that it was taped during interviews for one of the Dr. Dolittle flicks.
As such, we don’t get much information from the movie’s star, and the program suffers for it. Some decent information pops up in this show, especially as we learn about the film’s genesis. Sylvester Stallone’s early involvement is well known, but the documentary expands on this area nicely and lets us know the flick’s development process. It also includes some worthwhile anecdotes from the set, but a lot of it falls back on the usual praise. Enough information appears to make it a good program, but it’s not anything terribly memorable.
During A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process, we get some minor insights into that realm. The nine-minute and 40-second piece includes comments from casting director Margery Simkin as well as director Brest and actors Reinhold, Ashton, Eilbacher, and Cox. Although some decent tidbits pop up along the way, for the most part this show just echoes a lot of the same kind of praise we heard in the prior program.
One unusual feature is the Location Map. This shows an LA grid and lets you select seven different locations: “Beverly Hills Police Station”, “Victor Maitland’s Mansion”, “The Biltmore”, “Warehouse”, “Art Gallery”, “Harrow Club” and “Strip Club”. When you choose one of these, you find comments from production designer Angelo P. Graham; he tells us about the locations and gives us some useful information about them. Each of the clips lasts between 28 seconds and 105 seconds for a total of seven minutes and 45 seconds of material. It’s a good collection of information, as we learn some useful facts about the different areas.
Next we get another featurette called The Music of Beverly Hills Cop. This seven-minute and 45-second piece offers statements from producer Bruckheimer, actor Reinhold, director Brest, music editor Bob Badami, and editor Billy Weber. They discuss most of the pop songs heard in the flick and indicate why they ended up in the movie. It’s a fairly compelling little program. (Prior to this piece, I’d never really considered just how incredibly lame the lyrics to “The Heat Is On” are - they’re absolutely pathetic. Give it a listen and see if you agree!)
In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, we find a Photo Gallery. This domain includes 32 stills from the production. It’s a decent addition but not something tremendously fascinating.
Beverly Hills Cop established Eddie Murphy as a major movie star in 1984. Despite his many ups and downs over the years, it remains a fun and lively piece, largely due to his winning and charismatic performance. The DVD includes mediocre picture and sound, but these seem to accurately represent the source material. It also provides a decent roster of fairly interesting extras. Cop remains a favorite of mine, and I’m pleased with its treatment on DVD.