One can understand Paramount’s desire to get “Beverly Hills Cop” out on Blu-ray as soon as possible. The 1984 action comedy is probably Eddie Murphy’s most popular film, if you discount his vocal work in “Shrek,” and it stands out for its high energy, clever repartee, and sharp-tongued wit. If only it hadn’t been quite so uneven, quite so violent for an ostensibly humorous motion picture and quite so profane in its dialogue, it might have been even better. But who am I, after all these years, to criticize something that generated two sequels and made a genuine movie star of a TV comic? Murphy’s previous two movies, “48 Hours” and “Trading Places,” had done well at the box office, but nothing like this.
Murphy plays Detective Alex Foley in this one, a character we all got used to after a while. He’s a fast-talking, wisecracking cop from Detroit, who grew up stealing cars and identifying with hoodlums. But he’s also one sweet guy, once he found which side of law and order he was on, who keeps a cheerful disposition even in the most trying circumstances. Although Murphy’s nonstop line of chatter may for some people get nerve-wracking fast, in “Beverly Hills Cop” he’s pretty funny by keeping the chatter charming, non offensive (except for the profanities), and well focused. In his first scene we’re not sure if he’s an undercover cop or a real con man, his line of babble is so convincing.
So, how does a down-and-dirty Detroit police detective wind up in posh Beverly Hills? Not by accident. The movie combines a fish-out-of-water tale with a basic revenge plot to get him there. Foley’s best friend growing up, Mikey (James Russo), still a hood, comes to Foley’s apartment to see him after many years. He reveals he’s been in L.A., working for a big art dealer named Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), and he’s stolen some German bearer bonds from him. Shortly thereafter, Mikey is murdered. Foley decides to get even by going to Southern California on “vacation” and finding Mikey’s murderers.
The fish-out-of-water business comes in when Foley is close to bewildered by the excesses of Beverly Hills, the location of Maitland’s art gallery. “Crocodile Dundee” would follow the same course a couple of years later, an Aussie outlander in the urban jungles of New York City. Anyway, Foley finds a lot of Beverly Hills amusing, checks into the most expensive hotel he can find, and gets down to work. With the help of an old friend, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher), he begins secretly investigating the baddie. He’s not in town long before some goons toss him out a plate glass window. The Beverly Hills police arrest him for breaking the window and then try to kick him out of town! Shades of “In the Heat of the Night.” Once in police headquarters, an ultraclean, ultramodern, ultra-tech, ultra-expensive complex of offices that further amuses and slightly confounds him, we meet the film’s final trio of characters: Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), Sgt. Taggert (John Ashton), and Lt. Bogomil (Ronny Cox), who will eventually, after much hesitation, unite with Foley to solve the case.
The plot is incidental to Murphy’s verbal humor and a few physical gags. The story involves something about the aforementioned bonds and smuggling and such. Foley makes himself a target in order to get the goods on the operation. But the joke lines are amusing all the way around. When Foley sticks a banana in the tailpipe of a patrol car assigned to follow him, the Lieutenant bellows, “How could you not notice a man sticking a banana in your tailpipe!” How, indeed. Damon Wayans has a bit part selling the bananas.
What didn’t I like? The story line is weak, contrived, and certainly derivative. There’s an opening chase sequence that goes on too long, with the usual multitude of cars demolished in the process. The filmmakers basically treat the police like the Keystone Kops. Several of the scenes of bloodshed, especially the killing of Mikey, are rather brutal and unnerving for a comedy so lightweight. The film’s stabs at realism are then undermined by the clichés: Foley always finding a parking place directly in front of the downtown buildings he wants to scout out; the bad guys all amazingly bad shots and the good guys never missing; really dumb Beverly Hills policemen from the chief on down; really dumb police work from Foley, too, as his primary methods of investigation are breaking and entering and then confronting the heavies unaccompanied and telling them he knows what they’ve done and he’s going to get them. Okey dokey.
Keep in mind at all times that “Beverly Hills Cop” is a comedy, no matter how serious the filmmakers at times try to make it seem. Martin Brest directed the movie, he being a fellow with a decent track record (“Going in Style,” “Midnight Run,” “Scent of a Woman”), and Jerry Bruckheimer produced, he being a fellow who spends a lot more money on his films nowadays (“Black Hawk Down,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Paramount followed the movie with a pair of sequels through the following decade, neither of them quite as entertaining as the original.
Paramount’s video engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50 to reproduce the picture in its native 1.85:1 widescreen ratio for high-def Blu-ray. One notices a good deal of grain through the opening title shots and through the whole first part of the movie. It appears to be inherent to the print, and it clears up once the movie gets well underway. Colors are brilliantly alive, while being realistic; definition is sharp most of the time; black levels are strong; and detailing is exemplary, even in shadowy areas of the screen.
The audio, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, sounds clean, if not too spectacular. The dynamics work well, with a well-controlled mid bass always present. Unfortunately, in the remix Paramount audio engineers seemed reluctant to direct much information toward the rear speakers, or enough information for a person to notice except at high volume, so it’s only toward the end of the movie, during a gunfight, that bullets start flying around the listening area. Otherwise, we have to content ourselves with front-channel stereo, clearly delineated if somewhat limited in left-to-right spread.
Paramount carry over most of the bonus items found on the “Special Collector’s Edition” DVD, all of the featurettes in standard definition. The first it is an audio commentary with director Martin Brest. The next is a twenty-nine-minute featurette, “Beverly Hills Cop: The Phenomenon,” with plenty of cast and crew interviews. Then, we find “A Glimpse Inside the Casting Process,” nine minutes, and “The Music of Beverly Hills Cop,” seven minutes. The latter offers some insights into the techno pop and funk music used in the film. I especially liked an interactive Beverly Hills location map, complete with narration and video clips, that show us some of the actual places where the filmmakers shot movie.
The extras wrap up with a theatrical trailer; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. Remarkably, there are only eleven scene selections available on the Blu-ray disc, just as with the DVD. I don’t know what they were thinking about there. The disc comes enclosed in a flimsy Blu-ray Eco-case.
“Beverly Hills Cop” was probably more offbeat when it was released almost three decades ago, but it still provides more action and more laughs than most recent comedy thrillers. Eddie Murphy remains the same Eddie Murphy he always was and is, and for his fans that makes the film good enough. The MPAA rated the film R primarily for language, but it wouldn’t be a Murphy film without the R. It’s nice to have it back in high definition.