Paramount // 1984 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 17th, 2011
The heat is on.
Re-watching Eddie Murphy's breakthrough performance in Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. recently for a review, I was surprised at how well the film has aged. It's as edgy and angry now as it ever was -- possibly even more so, given the gradual softening of our popular culture in the last few decades. It features Eddie Murphy becoming a movie star in a single role (some would argue a single scene, in which he takes control of a cowboy bar) and defining what would become the "Eddie Murphy character" for at least the remainder of the '80s: the fast-talking outsider, constantly getting both into and out of trouble courtesy of his mouth. Unlike those that would go on to imitate him (I'm looking at you, Chris Tucker), Eddie Murphy is always cool, never obnoxious. He's the hippest, funniest guy in the room.
If 48 Hrs. made Murphy's career, the 1984 action comedy Beverly Hills Cop was the one in which it exploded -- the most successful movie of 1984 (bigger than Ghostbusters!) featuring one of the most iconic characters of the decade. In his first solo starring vehicle, Murphy is Axel Foley, a Detroit hoodlum-turned-cop whose best friend (and former partner in crime, literally) is murdered. Axel's bosses won't let him help solve the murder, so he takes a vacation to Beverly Hills and sets out to crack the case on his own. Before long, he's ruffling the feathers of just about everyone -- including the police lieutenant (Ronny Cox, RoboCop) and two cops (John Ashton of Gone Baby Gone and Judge Reinhold of Gremlins) who are assigned to babysit Foley during his time in Beverly Hills.
It's fairly common movie knowledge now that Beverly Hills Cop was originally intended as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone. While it's easy to imagine what that version of the movie would have looked like, it's impossible to conceive of it working the way it does in its current incarnation. Watching a tough guy smash his way through the snobby, upscale community of Beverly Hills isn't nearly as entertaining as watching a guy making us laugh at the ridiculousness of it all -- Murphy's Axel is smarter and quicker than everyone else in the movie, and therein lies the film's charm. Murphy's best films have always depended on him playing the "fish out of water," perhaps never more overtly or more successfully than in Beverly Hills Cop; watching him verbally shut down practically everyone he comes in contact with (at least, those he's not shutting down with the old 'banana-in-the-tailpipe' gag) is so entertaining mostly because a) Murphy, in his hoodie and t-shirt, gives the appearance of being the underdog and b) these stuffy rich folks have it coming. Director Martin Brest (who, between this and Midnight Run made two of the best action comedies of the 1980s before slowly disappearing down a Gigli wormhole) is smart in his approach, too: he knows when to stay out of Murphy's way and let him hold the screen during one of his seemingly improvised rants, but never lets the comic take over the movie entirely (the way some directors would do later in Murphy's career). The movie never becomes indulgent, because Brest wisely keeps the focus on moving the story forward at all times. And though the story of Beverly Hills Cop is hardly original, that's not what gives the movie its pleasures. It's all in the approach.
Paramount's Blu-ray of Beverly Hills Cop manages to outshine its standard DVD counterpart and makes for a fairly decent catalogue title. The 1.78:1 image is presented in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that's good at times and very good at others but never great. Despite the movie's age, there doesn't appear to be any visible flaws or damage, though colors are somewhat drab (this was never a particularly vibrant movie). A good amount of grain appears throughout, giving Beverly Hills Cop a nice, film-like appearance that's likely to please purists. THe 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is even more standard, offering up the dialogue and music (oh, Harold Faltermeyer's music) clearly but failing to have much impact during the action beats. At times, this sounds more like a stereo or even mono track than it does a full 5.1 mix -- not because the channels aren't utilized, but because the audio has a tendency to sound somewhat tinny. It's not a dealbreaker -- especially for a catalogue title -- but it's hardly the best the format has to offer.
With the exception of the film's theatrical trailer presented in 1080p HD, all of the bonus features on Beverly Hills Cop have been ported over from the original DVD and, as such, appear in standard def. First up is director Martin Brest's commentary track, in which he offers basic production background and stories about what it was like to work with Eddie Murphy; it's a fine, though unexceptional, commentary. Next is a half-hour featurette, "The Phenomenon Begins," which is a shorter and often more interesting overview of the production and the film's overall impact. Two shorter featurettes on the casting and the music, as well as an interactive location map, round out the bonus section.
I have no idea if Paramount currently has plans to release the two Beverly Hills Cop sequels on Blu-ray, but I'd argue it's not really necessary. The second film, directed by Tony Scott, is slick, violent garbage that's watchable in an '80s action movie kind of way; the third film has nothing going for it except the distinction of being the worst movie John Landis has ever made. We've got the original Beverly Hills Cop on Blu-ray for now, and that's all we really need.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R