Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkoff
Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay (Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie, Jr.)
SUMMARY: Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a police detective in Detroit who has developed a reputation as a bit of a cowboy, ignoring rules and regulations in the pursuit of criminals. As the film begins, Foley is acting as an undercover agent in a sting – a fact which is unknown to his superiors. When two other (oblivious) police officers stumble on the exchange between Foley and the criminals, they give pursuit: this results in a chase that winds through Detroit and destroys a lot of property. After this incident, Foley is warned by his boss, Inspector Todd, that he will be unemployed if he ignores protocol again. Foley returns home, only to find that boyhood friend and frequent petty criminal Mikey Tandino is waiting for him. As of late, Mikey has been on the straight in narrow, working as a security job at the same company in Beverly Hills, California that employs another childhood friend, Jenny Summers (Lisa Eilbacher). Mikey also reveals to Foley that he has a number of German bearer bonds, worth a large amount of money, but does not disclose how he came to possess these bonds. The two men go out for the evening, but when they return, two other men are waiting for them. These men knock Foley out, question Mikey about the bonds, then shoot him execution-style. Naturally, Foley wants to be assigned to the case, and is irate when he learns that because of his record (and probably his relation to the victim), the case has already been given to another detective. Foley then requests some vacation time: Todd grants this, but warns Foley to keep his nose out of the case. Foley heads to Beverly Hills, and immediately seeks out Jenny. Jenny is able to tell him that Mikey was working directly for Victor Maitland, a well-known and –respected art dealer (Jenny works in the gallery he owns). Foley tracks down Maitland, but when he mentions Mikey’s name, Maitland’s security guards physically toss him out of the building, where he is quickly arrested. At the police station, Foley is interrogated by Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton) and Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), then by their superior, Lieutenant Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox). Bogomil warns Foley not to mess with Maitland, but also has Taggart and Rosewood follow Foley. Naturally, Foley quickly realizes what is going on, and employs various methods (including bananas in the tailpipe) to get rid of the officers. Finally, Foley talks the unsuspecting Taggart and Rosewood into a strip bar, where they happen to thwart an intended robbery. After Foley tries to cover for them in front of Bogomil, the attitudes of Taggart and Rosewood towards Foley thaw.
Despite repeated warnings, Foley continues to investigate Mikey’s death, which keeps leading back to Victor Maitland. After getting into one of Maitland’s warehouses, he believes that Maitland is smuggling drugs into the country disguised in art crates. After Foley is again arrested after getting into a scuffle with Maitland at his country club, Foley informs the police, including Bogomil, Taggart and Rosewood of his theory. However, he is unsure exactly what kind of drugs Maitland is smuggling, and has no actual proof that anything illegal is going on. As such, the police cannot get a search warrant, and therefore cannot investigate Maitland or his warehouse. The Police Chief, who has heard about Foley’s embarrassing escapades, orders him back to Detroit: he also orders Rosewood to escort him to the airport. Rosewood intends to do this, but Foley manages to convince him that Maitland is up to something: instead of going to the airport, they pick up Jenny, then head back to the warehouse. Once there, Jenny and Foley enter the building and find a new shipment of “art” that contains bags of cocaine. Unfortunately, Maitland and his thugs arrive just after this discovery. They take Jenny hostage and beat up Foley; before leaving with Jenny, Maitland orders that Foley be killed. Rosewood, who has been waiting in the car, notices Maitland entering the building, then leaving with a struggling Jenny. Reluctantly, Rosewood enters the building, where he is able to help Foley escape from the rest of the thugs. Together, they head to Maitland’s house to rescue Jenny. On the way, Rosewood radios police headquarters, where Taggart overhears. Intending to stop Rosewood from wrecking his career, Taggart also goes to the Maitland estate. He is also soon convinced of the need to rescue Jenny and stop Maitland, and all three begin working their way to the house. Meanwhile, Bogomil has heard further reports at headquarters, and assembles backup before personally heading to the Maitland house. There, Foley has made it into the house as Taggart and Rosewood hold down the outside: he kills several men before being confronted by Maitland, who holds Jenny at gunpoint. Just then, Bogomil enters the house behind Foley; Jenny uses the opportunity to make a break for it, and both Bogomil and Foley empty their guns into Maitland. In the aftermath, Chief Hubbard arrives and berates all of the assembled officers, particularly Foley, until he is given a verbal report by Bogomil that casts all those involved in a very favorable light (most of which is a complete lie, but believable and legal). Hubbard knows that this is not the real story, but accepts it. Before leaving, Foley gets Bogomil to agree to put in a good word with Inspector Todd, back in Detroit. The next morning, Taggart and Rosewood arrive to escort Foley to the airport, but they agree to go with him to get a drink first.
MY TAKE: This movie is a bit of a cross between a film noir and a police farce movie, like The Naked Gun. Axel Foley is a detective who tends to bend the law in order to catch criminals (he breaks in to numerous places while in Beverly Hills), but also has a great sense of humor, and seems to always land on his feet. It’s hinted that as a teenager, Foley gravitated more to the other side of the law, which makes a lot of sense. It is particularly funny to watch him outwit the Beverly Hills cops, such as when he distracts them with room service, then stuffs their tailpipe full of bananas. The Beverly Hills police originally come off as blundering idiots, but prove their worth as the movie goes on. Though they still have their embarrassing moments, like when Taggart and Rosewood are trying to get over a wall on Maitland’s property, they also show strong instincts and police skills: had Rosewood not intervened at the warehouse, Foley would have been dead, and I doubt that he could have taken on Maitland without their help. It becomes clear that they aren’t bumbling idiots, but rather two men who stick closely to the rules and have little experience with serious crime (particularly Rosewood, who I will always think of as the stepdad in The Santa Clause and its sequels). The plot isn’t hard to follow, and it moves at exactly the right pace. Although there is a rather extended gunfight at the end of the movie, most of the first two-thirds focuses on the detective work that Foley does, set off by the humorous situations he keeps leaving the Beverly Hills cops in. It seems like Eddie Murphy was allowed to cut loose on this movie, a little like Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam (but not so frantic). The result is a performance that feels really natural, like it matches Eddie’s real personality.
Fun fact: Lisa Eilbacher, who plays Jenny, also played Seeger in An Officer and a Gentleman — she’s the one that can’t make it over the wall on the obstacle course.
RATING: Good mix of action and comedy.