Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2020)
As I noted in my review of Beverly Hills Cop, 1984 marked a great year for Saturday Night Live alumni, as at least one former castmember appeared in all three of the year’s top-grossing flicks. Not surprisingly, each of those films produced a sequel, and it may be interesting to investigate the fates of those features.
Two of the three wouldn’t appear until 1989. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which itself was the first sequel to 1981’s megahit Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Though Crusade didn’t outdo the original’s $242 million, its $197 million did top Doom’s $179 million. That series has the weakest connection to SNL. Dan Aykroyd did a cameo in Doom, but otherwise none of its alumni have appeared in any of the films.
The biggest hit of 1984, Ghostbusters had the strongest link to the TV show. It included two of the program’s most successful alumni, Bill Murray and Aykroyd. (Interestingly, it also had a big connection to SCTV, as both Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis first emerged through that vehicle.)
Ghostbusters II finally made it to screens in 1989, but unlike Crusade, it didn’t top its predecessor. In fact, the sequel’s $112 million wasn’t bad, but it marked a pretty substantial drop from the first film, and II was seen as a disappointment.
On the other hand, the final sequel under examination, 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II, offered a pretty solid hit. Only about two and a half years separated the December 1984 release of the first Cop and the May 1987 emergence of Cop II, and the audience’s fresh memories of Axel Foley and the gang likely helped make it a success.
Cop II snagged a reasonable $153 million, which placed it third for 1987. An unspectacular year at the box office, Three Men and a Baby won with $167 million, which Fatal Attraction narrowly edged out Cop II for second place with $156 million.
While it fell considerably short of the take enjoyed by the first flick, Cop II still qualified as a hit, even though it seemed like a flawed one. At the start of this story, we see a daring jewelry store robbery in Beverly Hills led by Amazonian platinum blonde Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielsen).
Our old friend Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) plans a fishing trip planned with his former partners from the Beverly Hills police force. First we see that Axel now dresses to the nines, and this marks improbable leap number two.
While a certain bond developed among the men by the end of Cop, the prospect that they continued to socialize on vacation afterward seems unlikely. Actually, I could buy it if the film just stuck Axel together with Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), but it also made Bogomil (Ronny Cox) an integral part of the friendship. Foley even now has close ties to Bogomil’s daughter!
If you’re thinking, “what daughter?” then you’re not alone. Jan (Alice Adair) made no appearance in Cop, probably because her name should actually be “Plot Device”.
Bogomil cancels the fishing trip due to his ongoing investigation of the “Alphabet Crimes”. Prior to the individual actions, the crooks send the cops notes with a letter on the front of each.
This begins with “A” and then has the audacity to go to “B”. Not sure what follows that - I knew I should have paid more attention in Kindergarten.
Their deeds relate to the letters involved, which gives the police some form of forewarning about what to expect, but not much. Apparently Bogomil’s investigation garnered him too much information, for early in the flick, they try to ice him.
As we learned in the first Cop - and will learn again in the third film - a vengeful Axel Foley is a powerful force. When he discovers that Bogomil barely escaped death, he immediately goes “deep undercover” and jets to California to assist his cohorts.
Complicating the process is a new police chief, and this one - played by Allan Garfield - is even more of a prick than the dude from the first flick. When Rosewood and Taggart overstep the bounds of their authority, he demotes them to traffic duty, so along with Axel, they have to tread lightly during their investigation.
From there the rest of the movie follows their attempts to get to the bottom of the villains’ plans. Pretty quickly Axel figures out that an oily dude named Maxwell Dent (Jurgen Prochnow) runs the show.
This allows him to subject the antagonist to the usual public humiliation that quickly became part of the Axel Foley MO. Bullets fly, cars crash, Axel outsmarts a bunch of people - it’s a pretty predictable affair for the most part.
It’s also moderately enjoyable, though it doesn’t remotely approach the highs of the first movie. With the release of his absurd pop album How Can It Be? in 1985 and the self-absorbed box office disappointment The Golden Child in 1986, Murphy clearly had begun to believe his own hype.
The Eddie of 1984 still worked for a living and had something to prove, but after that, he surrounded himself with sycophants and went into a terrible slide.
Cop II acts as part of that decline, but Murphy hadn’t fallen too far just yet. However, this movie’s Axel often feels wrong to me.
The flick tries to explain his new-found fashion sense by positing it as part of the sting operation, but despite a scene in which Axel laughs at himself in the mirror, it seems clear that Murphy digs the new wardrobe and other accoutrements.
Axel still wears the same crummy T-shirt, but here it remains largely hidden beneath a fairly snazzy Detroit Lions jacket. It may not be high fashion, but it definitely makes Murphy look a lot slicker than he ever did in the first movie.
Even Axel’s crappy blue Chevy Nova takes a powder in the sequel. Of course, he flies to the coast this time, so obviously he needs to rent a car, but had they remained true to the Foley non-materialistic ethic, he should have gotten something cheesy. Instead, Axel tools around in a pretty snazzy vintage convertible.
These elements don’t beat you over the head, but they sum up to a new attitude for Axel, and they don’t seem to fit with what we already know about the character. Here starts to turn more into a slick James Bond sort rather than the old street-savvy scammer. That trend reaches its nadir in Cop III, whereas the first sequel largely keeps these moments within appropriate limits.
The other characters also suffer from artificial alterations. We learn that Taggart’s wife left him, which really feels like the only piece of character exposition that makes any sense. Unfortunately, this element receives little discussion, so it feels like nothing more than detail for detail’s sake.
Rosewood turns out to have a serious internal rage problem, and that’s a real stretch for the nice boy we came to know in the first flick. Oh, I guess we could see him as one of those angry incel sorts in a way, and the original movie strongly hints that he’s a bit wimpy but wants to take charge.
Nonetheless, I didn’t buy his newfound fascination with heavy weaponry, and the film starts to make him out to be a psycho, which just isn’t right.
Still, they emerge more positively than Bogomil and his daughter Plot Device. Cox barely registers as a cameo in the flick, and Adair doesn’t show up much more frequently.
Essentially she exists so Axel can obliquely obtain information about her dad’s investigation. That’s it - she has virtually nothing else to do in the movie other than give us a sad face to justify Axel’s attempts at revenge.
Ironically, although all three Cop flicks feature a vengeful Axel, only the first really made us believe this motivation. Foley’s desire to find the murderers of his friend Mikey remained a constant subtext, and we truly buy that notion since Murphy aptly communicated his attitude.
No such material exists in either of the sequels. Frankly, nobody really seems that upset about Bogomil’s injury, and the killing in Cop III that initiates Axel’s quest appears almost totally forgotten after a few minutes.
Speaking of things that have been almost totally forgotten, I’d place Brigitte Nielsen in that category. One perfect sign that a movie will look dated comes from her presence.
Her giant blonde ice queen personality seems inextricably wedded to the Eighties. Heck, she even married Sylvester Stallone, one of the decade’s biggest icons.
(In examples of double in-jokes, references to Sly and his works abound during Cop II. Not only does this play upon Nielsen’s involvement, but also it connects to the fact Stallone originally was slotted to play the lead in Cop.)
I suppose Nielsen does what she does well, but the fact remains that once I see that frigid puss of hers, I know that the movie will seem like a period piece. Cop II doesn’t escape that fate, though I must admit that some of her scenes are among the film’s most effective.
Tony Scott - fresh off Top Gun, the biggest hit of 1986 - displays much more talent for action than for comedy, so those elements of Cop II often seem the most satisfying. The Alphabet Crimes themselves offer some very solid moments.
Unfortunately, no one goes to see a Cop flick for the action, so the comedy sequences suffer to a certain degree. As a whole, Cop II seems like a fairly generic rehash of the first movie, and many similar gags see repetition. Little about it comes across as inspired or creative, but some parts of it still work reasonably well.
Despite his post-1984 decline, Murphy hadn’t totally lost it by 1987, and he still showed some of his old flair and spark that would soon evaporate for a decade or so. No, this isn’t the same sly and winning Axel we liked in the first movie, as he’s much more smug and condescending.
Nonetheless, he retains enough life and charm to create some entertaining moments, and although the chemistry among Murphy, Ashton and Reinhold faded since 1984, they still maintain enough strength to add some value to their scenes.
I watched all three Cop films in chronological order during one long session, but to reap the most benefit, I should have viewed them in the reverse manner. The God-awful Cop III still would have sucked, but it’d look less rancid without the fresh memory of its predecessors.
Cop II would then seem much stronger by comparison to Cop III and without the immediate connection to the first one. I could then have wrapped up with the original and ended on a happy note.
But I didn’t do that, so I’ll have to retain my thoughts of Beverly Hills Cop II as a sporadically entertaining but flawed and fairly mediocre comedy. It manages to seem reasonably entertaining for most of its running time, and it never really falls on its face, but the thrill clearly was gone, and at times it feels more like corporate product than anything else.