I revisited my old friend Axel Foley this weekend.
In the 80s the first two were simply awesome, it’s just too bad that they made such a misstep with the 3rd film.
The first film directed by Martin Brest, is Eddie Murphy at the height of his hilarity, but for all that, the film isn’t really a comedy, which is one of the huge faults of the third film, but we’ll get to that.
The first film has a gritty look and feel to it, at least while they are in Detroit, it gets a little brighter when Axel hits the west coast, but his character still remains gritty, if funny, devious and a wise-ass.
Axel comes to Beverly Hills to catch the killer of a childhood friend who was working out there and becomes embroiled in a crime caper centering around bearer bonds.
It took Murphy’s comedic styling (can you believe Stallone was in line to play the role – how different would that version have been?) and made him a maverick cop who eventually works together with the his Beverly Hills PD counterparts Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton) as well as their chief Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox).
They are threatened by the always-reliable-to-play-bad-guys Steven Berkhoff and Jonathan Banks (although I always like Jonathan in Wise Guy).
It was fun, loud, and had a kick-ass 80s soundtrack, including the always awesome Harold Faltermeyer’s piece Axel F. There are wonderful character moments, Paul Reiser steals scenes (“this is not my locker”), the film is wonderfully paced and walks the fine balance between action and comedy, allowing Murphy to be fun, and carry out fights and shootouts, as a fairly believable cop.
So it was inevitable that a second film would be made.
And three years later in 1987, along came Beverly Hills Cop II.
Director by Tony Scott (yes Ridley’s brother) and covered in his trademark saturated colors and editing style, the second film was easily on par with the first film. Taking the characters we loved and Murphy’s considerable talents, and gave us more of what we loved.
In the two years since we had last seen them, the trio from Beverly Hills and the cop from Detroit had become stronger friends, and have been on at least one fishing trip together.
This time, our friends in Beverly Hills get caught up in a huge robbery and insurance scam perpetrated by Jurgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell and Brigitte Nielsen, who are posing as Alphabet Bandits.
They make the mistake of choosing Bogomil as their ‘B’ crime, and Axel ruses out to the west coast (again) to find the people responsible for the crime. He, Taggart,(who’s going through a divorce) and Billy (who’s got some problems of his own) get to work on tracking down their suspects and meting out justice.
Scott makes use of all the things that worked well in the film, and while Murphy is very funny, his role is a little more serious, though he still has great lines, and a number of funny scenes (he comes across as a real guy who’s a good cop, but just naturally funny), and Reinhold’s Billy plays a bit more of the broad comedy.
This one seems to fall a little more on the action side of the action-comedy line just like the first, the two of them are strong entertaining 80s-era films.
It took seven years to make the next one.
At this point, Murphy seemed to be losing his comedic traction, and it was right before he reposition himself, successfully as more of a family friendly entertainer with films like Nutty Professor, Mulan, Shrek, and Dr. Dolittle.
I for one, miss the 80s era comedic Murphy, so when I first heard they were making a third film, I was hopefully optimistic.
John Landis climbed into the director’s seat, and while an able comedic director, and also one of my fave horror movies, An American Werewolf In London, Cop III was a misstep.
This time out, Axel’s boss, Inspector Todd (Gilbert R. Hill) who had some of the best lines in the first film, is murdered by villain Timothy Carhart in the opening sequence, and the really poorly constructed clues (honestly – if they live in Beverly Hills, why would they need towels from Wonder World (in the same town), if they could just bring some from home?) take Axel back to Beverly Hills to catch a killer and stop a counterfeiting ring working out of an amusement park (a poorly disguised Disney World stand-in).
It seemed the real reason to have it in the amusement park is to hang some poorly constructed scenes on it, and people would think they were having a good time and not realize how bad of a film it is.
Taggart’s character has apparently retired, and Billy’s character gets pushed to the periphery of the story as Axel wanders through sight gags, silly rides, and sequences to catch the killer.
It tries to be way too funny. And seeing how upset Axel got over his friend Mikey in the first movie, and Bogomil in the second, you’d think he’d be more upset, and angry over the loss of his boss, friend and mentor.
But apparently not.
The film is played too broad, and Landis forgot where the action-comedy line was and on which side to err.
If it had’ve been in the vein of the first two, this would’ve fit very well in the series, but it tried to play too many things for laughs, and it became hard to believe that Foley was even a cop in this film.
And while I’m harping… did we really need a cameo by George Lucas (among others?) and a symphonic version of Axel F?
Do yourself a favor, stick to the original two films, and skip the third – it’s not the Axel Foley you know and love.
What did you guys think? And what are some of your favorite action-comedies of the 80s?