Favorite Scene Theatre: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Hard to believe BEVERLY HILLS COP opened way back on December 5, 1984, crushing DUNE that month, setting box-office records and establishing Eddie Murphy as the comedy star of the neon era. I missed the film in the theater, even though I was a big fan of his work on “Saturday Night Live” and thought him genius on his very first SNL appearance as “Little Richard Simmons.” So I was pleasantly surprised when I later rented the film on VHS and enjoyed it immensely, and still think it likely his best showcase as Detroit cop, Axel Foley. Martin Brest directs in a low-key style still within 70’s grit parameters; producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson hadn’t yet perfected their glossy action template (was Victor Maitland the first Euro-trash villain of the 80’s?), so there’s a naturalism to the film that stands out today. John Ashton even manages to steal scenes from Murphy as the whole eclectic cast gets a chance to shine, from Damon Wayans as a fey waiter to Bronson Pinchot’s hilarious career-making turn as Serge, the art gallery assistant: his scene is the real subtext of BEVERLY HILLS COP — indeed the subtext of Los Angeles itself — the democratic ideal writ large, where people are separated by wealth but not by class (I think the worst scene in the film is Murphy trying to get a free room by screaming racism). I love that Serge is not presented as a snob foil, not offended at all by Alex’s repeated “Get the fuck outta here!” when told of the art prices. Of course, the memorable hit theme by Harold Faltermyer sells Axel In Hollywoodland, and when living right off Beverly Boulevard, I felt a nostalgic kinship to the film, soundtracked by the uber-80’s instrumental…

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20 Responses to “Favorite Scene Theatre: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)”

  1. Love that opening chase where the truck demolishes everything in its path. What a way to start a movie! Hard to believe that Brest, responsible for the two best action-comedies – this film and MIDNIGHT RUN – went on to direct the abyssmal GIGLI.

    • It helps that the soundtrack is a particularly good one, and “Neutron Dance” by the Pointer Sisters is a great song to start out the action.

  2. Wow, haven’t seen that in years. Pinchot really did swipe that scene right out from under Murphy. It could have been total cliche, too. You nailed it — it was genius instinct to NOT play Serge as all stuffy and offended.

    (To my eyes, it appears Murphy was trying to wrest the scene back with the high-pitched “get the fuck outta here” and Pinchot did a Judo move on him by aping his delivery. He saw his moment and grabbed it, to the extent that Murphy looks visibly annoyed. That’s my take, anyway. Be it chemistry or competition, the sparks flew and the scene is comedy history.)

    Another thing I remember about the film is that the mix of comedy and violence was off-putting to some viewers, similar to the reactions caused by AMERICAN WEREWOLF. These shifts are so common now that it’s hard to imagine, but I remember someone saying something like “I was watching a light action-comedy and suddenly it became MEAN STREETS, with people being shot in the head point-blank.” From that to BAD BOYS 2…

  3. what the heck did happen to brest? is it possible the direness of ‘meet joe black’ and ‘gigli’ actually cosmically negated the early endearing freshness and brilliance of ‘bev hill cop’ and ‘midnight run’, this creating a black hole of doom that sucked him in

  4. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN was a hit???

  5. No shit? Never would have guessed. The film is generally treated like Billy Carter. There isn’t even a decent DVD. I’ve seen what I have of it in chunks on YouTube.

    • Get thee to Warners Archive and feast on a widescreen version for 20 bucks. Tho it really deserves a real release with features and interviews…

  6. tonal shift is a strongest blend of 80’s juice.

    flabbergasting to watch how the 90s actually misread everything from this legacy. maybe it was too soon. i remember going to beverly cop 3 and wondering why things got worse. there was a kind of, how to put it…. maybe the 80s were a kind of stylistic no man’s land, were nothing could be one or the other. it could be : in between.

  7. Not sure if I agree with you on that decade being a no-man’s land. There are some very distinctive stylistic and thematic touches that just SCREAM Eighties: dry ice, haze, light through venetian blinds, silhouettes, neon, synth scores, Uzis and rocket launchers, decrepit retro futures, nobody dies.

    The ‘oos were pretty clearly defined before that decade even ended: desaturation, dusty brown, toilet green, shooting on digital, micro-cutting, shaky-cam, terrorists, torture, geeks in situation rooms, “everybody dies” endings.

    But what defines the Nineties, aside from crisp film stock, lack of grit or grime, bright colors and overuse of insufficiently advanced CGI? They were pretty much the Eighties, but more so. Bigger budgets, more effects, shinier and glossier. (Aside from the indie boom.) If I had to condense them into a sentence, the best I could do is this: HAPPY, TEXAS, Tarantino, dubbed/edited Hong Kong flicks and Roland Emmerich.

    • The 80’s had a definite stylistic template with everything Frank listed. That’s why I call it “the neon decade” – everything gloss, slhouettes, lens flares, and a DX7 synthesizer with steel drums. The 80’s needed to end in the 80’s and as fer the 90’s, Soderbergh reined it in with SEX LIES & , and Linklater shamed the 80’s away with SLACKER. The same way Nirvana came along in 92 and ended the 80’s pop romantic sound.

      • oh i totally agree with you guys. by stylistic, i was only referring to the stylistic narration of the tonal shift, which is for me an “essence” (i can get it from 48 hours too). i would be the last person on earth to tell you that the 80s has no style ahaha. i especially like when it gets radical in its treatment of multiple layers (the girls in savage streets for example) or the strange neon codes of what one can get from tass times in tone town (a video game). the 90s mistreatement of the tonal shift during 90s popular movies was a catastrophe, who went from total equilibrium to pure opportunism in beverly hills cop 3 (btw, image wise, we can get a very nice stylistic glimpse of the nineties in beverly hills cop 2, the same we get from the profit tv show – another 90s who looks 80s but…)

        sorry if my diminutive french ellipses can somewhat be misread.

  8. oops double comment – xian, please erase the first one ? (less detailed)

  9. So what do you guys think we’re headed into now, aside from more Eighties nostalgia? Anyone care to prognosticate?

  10. i get that all the time. i m so in love with everything 80s, even (especially) the bad parts that i get : oh, stop your nostalgia, get on the future etc…. the thing is : i think the 80s showed us the future. not the TEXTURE of the future but the PROCESS, especially the layers.

    i often go to iceland, which is tightly knit culture, open to every influence, they re a bunch of very smart people, very forward minded and progressive, and i m always amazed when i go there by how 80s they all look like. sometimes, it s 80s we’ve seen before, but usually, it’s new 80s. its all about bringing layers together – frank mentioned light through venetian blinds, well, imagine how everything can look like layers of blinds, stratas upon stratas, to acquire a new texture, a kind of out-there look. indie music has been on the starting block for that. i m totally amazed by some new style rising from the ashes of the 80s, something pretty radical in itself. not danceable, not nostalgia… another in between. personally, i love this. i want all of this. we need this process. because it is FUN. video gamles have totally get it, with lots of retro gaming, forward gaming playfulness.

    example : CLSLX, a mysterious electro collective from philadelphia, put up this totally amazing single, “paula abdul drinking a pepsi in october 17, april 1987” (http://downloads.pitchforkmedia.com/CSLSX%20-%20Paula%20Abdul%20Drinking%20a%20Pepsi%20October%2017%201987.mp3) . tell me i m not dreaming and that this is not some kind of beverly hills cop 7 soundtrack…

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