The Big Picture

  • The original
    Beverly Hills Cop
    film launched Eddie Murphy into superstardom and was followed by three sequels.
  • The second installment, directed by Tony Scott, has a more action-oriented and violent tone compared to the first film.
  • Tony Scott’s visual style creates a unique dynamic between a typical Eddie Murphy comedy and a boisterous ’80s action movie.



The audience consensus on the Beverly Hills Cop series is understood. The original 1984 film was a cultural phenomenon that vaulted Eddie Murphy into superstardom. Because it was a blockbuster in the 1980s, it naturally received a sequel three years later and an additional one seven years after that. A legacy sequel, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, just dropped on Netflix. Where the first installment, directed by Martin Brest, is iconic for its memorable lines and high-concept premise of a fish-out-of-water Detroit cop in Beverly Hills, the latter installments are more or less disposable — ultimately failing to capture the magic of the original. Still, while Beverly Hills Cop feels like lightning in a bottle, its 1987 sequel, Beverly Hills Cop II, should not be dismissed. After all, it was directed by the preeminent Hollywood maximalist, Tony Scott, and the film’s content is far more brutal and unflinching than one might remember.



‘Beverly Hills Cop’ Was a Cultural Phenomenon That Demanded a Sequel

Beverly Hills Cop‘s rise to being the highest-grossing film of its year was a miracle considering its spontaneous production. The film was conceived out of broad and loose ideas conceived by eccentric Paramount executive Don Simpson, whose biography, High Concept, details the film’s development. The title of the biography refers to the commercially viable production and marketing model of the late Simpson and his former business partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, that creates movies that can be sold based on its premise. Beverly Hills Cop, a fish-out-of-water story about a Detroit Cop, Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy), who investigates a crime ring in Beverly Hills, California that is responsible for his friend’s murder, epitomizes the high-concept model. Beginning as a rudimentary Sylvester Stallone action vehicle, the script was rewritten on multiple occasions to expand upon the comedic aspect of the story. Finally, when Murphy came on board, fresh off 48 Hrs. and a show-stealing run on Saturday Night Live, he completely changed the fabric of Beverly Hills Cop, as many of the holes in the script were salvaged by his improvisation skills.


Being a massive success, a sequel to Beverly Hills Cop was a guarantee. The principal cast, Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, and Ronny Cox, returned for Beverly Hills Cop II, while Martin Brest, who later directed Midnight Run, did not. To replace Brest, Simpson and Bruckheimer looked to their farm system, with no crop more bankable than Tony Scott, who previously directed Top Gun, the biggest hit of 1986 that ignited Tom Cruise as a superstar. The decision to cast Scott, a master of spectacle with a music video aesthetic, but no specialist in comedy, created unforeseen results for the producers. Editor Billy Weber, in an interview for the site, We Are Cult, recalled the screening of the first cut of Cop II, when Simpson and Bruckheimer responded with a lukewarm resignation towards Scott’s film. “Don and Jerry just looked around and shrugged, and said, ‘Huh,'” Weber said. “It wasn’t a comedy – it played like a straight action movie,” he continued.


Tony Scott’s Directorial Style Complemented Blockbuster Filmmaking

While modern audiences may be surprised at just how much gritty action takes place in Cop I, Brest’s film is a comedy, first and foremost. The film lives and dies because of the prowess of its comedic lead. The visual language was glossy enough and the action set pieces were effective, but they were not the film’s calling cards. When you hire the late Tony Scott to helm an expensive blockbuster, be prepared to be handed the most visually dynamic and expressive shots imaginable. Critically maligned during his life, Scott was unfairly labeled as “all style and no substance.” While not a prime candidate for a film school lecture, Scott carries distinct visual characteristics, satisfying the basis of auteur theory in film scholarship. These traits include saturated colors, kinetic camera movements, and slick photography. At the time, his aesthetic was cited as the root of all the problems of 1980s cinema: flashy visuals with empty themes constructed by people born from commercials and music videos.


Scott, the true predecessor to Michael Bay, directed films with an urgency that often evolves into brashness. The kinetic spirit of his colors and camera movements apply to his text as well, usually depicting unflinchingly violent and crude protagonists, including Bruce Willisgrizzled private eye in The Last Boy Scout or Denzel Washington‘s revenge-fueled bodyguard in Man on Fire. When studios greenlit a sequel to a big hit like Beverly Hills Cop, they were likely imagining a safe investment — nothing too esoteric or boundary-pushing. When you have a beloved American icon like Eddie Murphy, keeping him wholesome is the right move from a financial perspective. In Cop II, while never turning heel, Axel Foley is noticeably insolent. Compared to the original, where his sly personality allowed him to stay under the radar, Axel’s overbearing persona in the sequel is demonstrated in Murphy’s ostentatious performance, stylized wardrobe, and a brand-new Ferrari. For better or worse, Murphy hijacks every scene to riff. These scenes, when Murphy takes on an alias or connives his way through an obstacle, appear to be heavily improvised. If his ad-libbing was seamless in the first movie, viewers could see the proverbial sweat while Murphy attempts to steal every scene.


Related

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What Did Tony Scott Bring to ‘Beverly Hills Cop II’?

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) taking off his sunglasses in Beverly Hills Cop II
Image via Paramount Pictures

The studio’s tepid response to the initial screening of Beverly Hills Cop II indicates the radical changes Tony Scott brought to the Axel Foley story. There are not considerably more action scenes in Cop II, but the fervor and explosiveness of each set piece outweigh all the rudimentary shoot-outs and chase sequences in Cop I. Scott sets the tone immediately with a blistering jewelry store heist orchestrated by an antagonist, Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielsen). There isn’t a thing on the screen that is impervious to an explosion. All the heist sequences are the stand-outs of the film, and they make you wish that Scott directed a heist thriller at some point in his career. Every Simpson/Bruckheimer film is associated with virtuosic action sequences, bright colors, and a distinct 1980s aesthetic, and Cop I seemed to have checked all the boxes. When Scott came along to direct the sequel, Martin Brest’s film retroactively looked tame.


All aspects of Cop II are generally louder, from Murphy’s delivery, the addition of a new belligerent police chief played by Allen Garfield, and the violent nature of the action scenes. Scott emphasizes the destruction in the wake of the action scenes, as seen in the carnage caused by the chase sequence when Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) chases one of the perpetrators in a cement mixer truck. The iconic synth-pop score that defined the first film plays seemingly on repeat throughout the sequel. During the climactic shootout between Foley, Rosewood, and Taggart (John Ashton) and the Alphabet Crimes gang, all-out warfare ensues with heavy weaponry. The jump in stakes and spectacle predates The Fast and the Furious‘ audacious leap from petty larceny to global high-tech combat. In the spirit of the film’s ostentatious tonal shift are the direct allusions to Clint Eastwood and the Dirty Harry series. Not only does Axel carry himself like the preeminent super-cop, but Rosewood is armed with a magnum similar to Harry Callahan’s iconic weapon of choice. The upgrade in weaponry acts as a meta-commentary on the state of ’80s action sequels and their maximalist approach.


Narratively, Beverly Hills Cop II closely resembles its predecessor. Following the near-fatal shooting of Captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Axel Foley returns to Beverly Hills to uncover the mystery surrounding a series of high-value thefts called the Alphabet Crimes. Once again, the three are rogue officers investigating a case their superior officers want no part of. Because the story arc is so similar, the routines that made the original film a phenomenon feel re-heated in the sequel. Despite the formulaic approach, Tony Scott’s welcoming visual style provides a curious dynamic to the film, operating like a tug-and-pull between a typical Eddie Murphy comedy and a boisterous ’80s action movie. In one corner, Murphy is performing an extension of his stand-up routine, doing impressions and partaking in cons to advance the story, and in the other, Scott is making every shot of the sky and sun-baked exterior look as vibrant as possible.


Tony Scott is perhaps the ultimate “vulgar auteurist,” a title awarded to genre directors who are reappraised as genuine artists, even if they were disregarded in their time. They redefine what makes a film artistically sound, which often defies the conventions of auteur-driven cinema. Scott, a commercial director who specializes in slick action spectacle with a bombastic attitude toward tone and characterization, may not be the classiest director, but he is undeniable as an entertainer and iconoclast of blockbuster filmmaking. By turning a safe, reliable sequel to a popular star-driven comedy in Beverly Hills Cop and morphing it into a chaotic action showcase, stripped of the endearing ingenuity of the first, Scott showed that he was never afraid to push the limits.


Beverly Hills Cop II and Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F are available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

Watch on Netflix

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