There is just something about a good ‘80s action comedy that warms my cold heart. Beverly Hills Cop and its sequel are two of the better such films, and 1994's belated Part III is not quite as bad as its reputation. These films shine because of star Eddie Murphy, whose recent career renaissance after an extended dry spell is very welcome. Murphy first introduced fast-talking Detroit cop Axel Foley in 1984's Beverly Hills Cop, in which Foley initially travels to Beverly Hills, California, to investigate the murder of a childhood friend, Mikey (James Russo). Against the explicit orders of his boss back in Detroit, Inspector Todd (Gil Hill), Foley contacts an acquaintance on the ground, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), and begins piecing together clues about the murdered Mikey. Foley initially humiliates and infuriates local officers Det. Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sgt. John Taggart (John Ashton), but when Foley proves his worth, the men begin a reluctant partnership and discover Mikey's dealings with a dangerous local businessman, Victor Maitland (Steve Berkoff).
Martin Brest directs Beverly Hills Cop from a screenplay by Daniel Petrie Jr., and once-powerhouse duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer produce for Paramount Pictures. It is hard not to smile as Murphy cons, confuses and tricks his way across Beverly Hills, and Murphy is at the top of his game here. The film itself is a relatively routine action comedy, and there is nothing particularly unique about the mystery at its heart. Beverly Hills Cop is, however, very funny, and the action is exciting thanks to Murphy's charisma. The film's soundtrack, including the instrumental "Axel F" that serves as the title theme and tunes from Patti LaBelle, The Pointer Sisters and Glenn Frey, is also memorable, and the film has that raw, realistic feeling of ‘80s actioners thanks to its practical effects and on-location photography. This may be routine cops-versus-criminals folly, but Murphy is a true on-screen talent, and he buoys everyone around him, particularly Reinhold and Ashton. This is a well-known, beloved ‘80s action comedy for a reason: Eddie Murphy. Beverly Hills Cop: ****1/2 (out of *****).
Murphy, Ashton, Reinhold and others return for the sequel, Beverly Hills Cop II, which was directed by Tony Scott from a screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Warren Skaaren and released in 1987. The Beverly Hills Police Department is suffering from incompetent leadership and political intervention, which makes the old school, training-wheels-off tactics of officers like Foley off limits. When a group of criminals begins committing brazen robberies at high-end stores, chief Harold Lutz (Allen Garfield) is unimpressed with the work of Taggart and Rosewood. Capt. Andrew Bogomil is close to sharing a scoop about the case with his guys but is shot and nearly killed by the criminals' enforcer, Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielsen). Foley again travels to Beverly Hills to investigate the shooting of a friend, and the gang discovers a corrupt businessman, Maxwell Dent (Jurgen Prochnow), is involved in this local criminal activity.
This sequel at times tries a bit too hard to be the first film, but in some respects it actually improves upon its predecessor. The narrative is more complicated and dramatically satisfying here, the stunts and action sequences are bigger and more exciting, and there is plenty of Murphy wisecracking to satisfy fans. I am a big fan of the late Scott as a director, and he was truly an auteur of sharply edited action films. Beverly Hills Cop II is a lot more subtle and traditional than his later films, but plenty of his trademark rapid-fire directing style shines through. For me, Part II is a very good film that does not top the first. Murphy's performance is not quite as sharp and fresh, and the comedy elements work better in the first film. The supporting characters and their interplay with Murphy remain a highlight, and Nielsen is enjoyable in her ice-queen hitman role. Beverly Hills Cop II: **** (out of *****).
Released a decade after the original and directed by the legendary John Landis, Beverly Hills Cop III is a major step down from the first two films. The movie was a box office disappointment and got savaged by the critics, which include its star, Murphy, who reportedly hates the film. I have read that Murphy was going through a period of depression while filming Part III and that his heart was not in the project, which he repeatedly refused to do and criticized as a cash-grab before finally signing on. Landis, best known for films like Animal House and The Blues Brothers, had success blending comedy with action, drama and horror elements in the 1980s, but Beverly Hills Cop III fails to capitalize on his eye for sharp, broad comedy and pacing. Landis now admits the script, from Steven E. de Souza, was weak at production, and that he tried to heavily rely on Murphy to adlib lines and improvise. Murphy reportedly told Landis and his filmmaking team that Foley had grown up and would not be the same cop he was a decade earlier, to disappointing on-screen results.
I do not think the film is as awful as its reputation, but it certainly is lacking in true comedy and excitement, which are staples of the franchise. The convoluted narrative involves a local amusement park, counterfeit currency and, you guessed it, corrupt businessmen, but it lacks dramatic heft and urgency. Murphy kind of sleepwalks through his role here, and poor Reinhold returns as a Rosewood looking lost without his partner Taggart. While Part III offers fleeting entertainment for fans of the franchise, it unspools like a poor imitation of its infinitely superior predecessors. Beverly Hills Cop III: **1/2 (out of *****).
Note: The average rating for these three films is 3.666. Our review system does not allow such a specific star rating, so I have rounded up to four stars.
THE BLU-RAY COLLECTION:
Paramount has afforded all three films excellent new 4K remastered presentations and yes, we are all wondering why they failed to release these movies on 4K Ultra HD at the same time. Each film is afforded a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, with the first and third films appearing with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and the second arriving at 2.35:1. I'm going to review all these transfers together, as they are all quite excellent. Each image appears filmic and lifelike, with excellent fine-object detail and texture. The first two films offer more grain, which looks great in motion, than the third, but there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement anywhere. Colors are bold and appropriately saturated, black levels are steady, shadow detail is abundant, and each image appears robust, vibrant and without dirt, debris and scratches. For a budget-priced set, Paramount has done a great job here. ****1/2 (out of *****).
Each film benefits from a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and each disc offers 2.0 Dolby Digital dubs and a laundry list of subtitle options. These surround mixes appear to be ported from previous releases, but I have few complaints here. There are no issues with crowding, hiss or feedback, and all elements are appropriately balanced. The first film's mix is slightly more front-loaded than its sequels and it relies less on the subwoofer and surrounds for support. Even so, ambient and action effects do move through the sound field. The sequel mixes are rowdier and rely heavily on the LFE, especially Part III. The soundtrack selections, which play important roles in these films, are robust and appropriately layered with dialogue and effects. There are plenty of immersive action-effects pans across all three films to satisfy viewers. **** (out of *****).
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc set arrives in a hinged Blu-ray case. Each film arrives on its own Blu-ray disc. The case is wrapped in a slipcover with a simple but striking image of Murphy. There are no digital copies in this set. The only movie with anything in the bonus-features department is the first, which offers some repeat and newly available bonus items. You get an Audio Commentary by Martin Brest; an Isolated Score Track in Dolby Digital 5.1; Deleted Scenes (3:49 total/HD); Behind the Scenes: 1984 Interviews (6:48 total/HD), which offer brief blurbs from the cast; Beverly Hills Cop: The Phenomenon Begins (29:11/SD), a vintage making-of; A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process (9:37/SD); The Music of Beverly Hills Cop (7:49/HD); a Location Map; the Theatrical Trailer (2:33/HD); and a BHC Mixtape ‘84, which points viewers to scenes with memorable soundtrack selections.
While Paramount really missed an opportunity to release this trilogy in 4K Ultra HD, this reasonably priced set is a nice upgrade for fans and marks the first time the sequels are available on Blu-ray in the United States. Eddie Murphy is the highlight of this franchise, and the first two films, at least, offer excellent ‘80s action-comedy thrills. The new visual presentations are superb, and the soundtracks are no slouch. Only the first film benefits from any bonus features, which is another unfortunate omission. Nevertheless, the set as a whole is Recommended.