BEVERLY HILLS COP II
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Larry Ferguson and Warren Skaaren
With Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, and Brigitte Nielsen.
Beverly Hills Cop II opens in a blind panic and never calms down. The film’s style is that of a magician who keeps dazzling you with his right hand so you’ll never notice what his left is up to. The result is not unpleasant–after all, it’s the ultimate Hollywood audience stroke; it’s supposed to make you feel good. But it’s a bit like having your dessert shoved down your throat and being told, of course it’s not good for you, so you’d better like it.
The movie’s pace and tone are set in the opening scene, a robbery of a Beverly Hills jewelry store by a gang of hooded bandits in black leather, under the direction of a tall, chicly coiffed and attired blond (Brigitte Nielsen). There’s a lot of screaming at the customers to lie down on the floor, a lot of smashing glass, tensely barked orders, and finally an enormous amount of automatic gunfire as the crooks pause to spray the shop with bullets before they leave. Now, it’s obvious from the description that none of this makes any sense. For one thing, ravishing women don’t generally conduct armed robberies in drop-dead clothes; they’re a little too easy to recognize, even in Beverly Hills. Likewise, you don’t send an army of leather-clad hooligans with oversized weapons into a jewelry store holdup either; they, too, would likely attract the notice of passersby (especially in Beverly Hills, where people would want to know where they got their outfits). And finally, when you’re working against the clock to complete your criminal act (though by this time you may have given up the idea of going unnoticed), you probably don’t stop to fire a few clips of ammunition at every last bit of crystal and glass in the place.
But director Tony Scott goes to great lengths to make sure you don’t have time to think about anything like logic. The whole scene probably takes about two minutes and there are about 30 edits. Wham, bam, bang, zoom; the action rushes by so quickly–as on the proverbial dramatic roller coaster–that there’s no time to question it. The scene starts at a gallop and quickly escalates, and when it ends it’s like being knocked off a horse.
Which is OK for an action scene in an action/comedy. After all, one of the reasons the genre is so popular is that when the violence has been leavened with jokes, the moral implications of the bad guys’ evil deeds are reduced, and we can enjoy their high jinks almost as much as the good guys’. So it makes sense to elevate the kinetic thrills of a robbery over anything else. But Scott elevates the kinetic thrills of every scene over everything else. Three editors are credited on Beverly Hills Cop II and they have obviously earned their keep, at least in terms of bulk. There’s no dynamic sense; everything is at such a high pitch that there’s no time for that. Occasionally, a transitional dialogue scene will be shot in its brief entirety in a single shot. But because it comes as a mere respite in a general onslaught, it functions as a kind of rest stop for the mentally exhausted. Rather than controlling attention, it obliterates it, and as a result, most of the contributions of the supporting cast are lost.
None of Murphy’s are, however. After his somewhat tired performance in The Golden Child, it seemed an open question whether he could rekindle his energy enough to take on Axel Foley again. Well, he does. Murphy is just about as funny as he can get, especially when he’s doing his undercover cop masquerades. He’s such a rapid-fire performer that Scott’s overheated style actually makes sense even when applied to Murphy’s dialogue scenes. In fact, Murphy’s scenes are the only ones in which Scott’s photographic and editing style seems to be dictated by his subject rather than a desperate urge to assuage the public. Foley is a perfect role for a raw talent like Murphy. Because he’s always donning disguises, he can jump in and out of character almost at will. Inconsistency is part of his persona, and there’s no need for sustained characterization. It also keeps the character of Foley completely likable and morally faultless: whenever he points a gun at someone’s head, or engages in any other violent act, he can turn his head, smile at the camera, and make out like he’s just been pretending all the time.
Of course, there’s another, more volatile side to Murphy’s character, that of the dangerous–or at least upsetting–black man disrupting the white upper class (rarely the middle class, since that’s where most of his audience comes from). In the first Beverly Hills Cop, director Martin Brest’s easygoing, long-take style and willingness to let Murphy improvise created a roominess in the action that paid notice to this side of the comedian’s talent. It would occur mostly in the in-between scenes: when Murphy wanted to get into a restaurant, he pretended to be the black gay lover of a white customer, embodying the kind of surreptitious thrills a rich man would want to keep secret. In the sequel, however, that scene is matched with one in which Murphy seeks access to an equally sacrosanct precinct (this time, perhaps significantly, a gun club), but relies on a gag, a box of vitamins he pretends is a package of explosives. In the first film, the humor is more closely tied to Murphy’s personality; in the second, though he’s still funny, he’s more mechanical, less human.
Considering that both Beverly Hills Cop movies are vehicles, there is a lot of attention paid to the supporting cast. But again, Brest’s less harried style allowed for more interaction. His loosely framed long takes allowed the actors to create some comic tension; the conflicts between the loose Murphy and all the uptight white folks he came up against were vivified. Scott, because he insists on maintaining his shoot-from-the-hip style regardless of the situation, subverts those comedic collisions. Granted, because the plot demands of a sequel dictate that the returning cast now be more sympathetic to Murphy (the two cops he teased and tortured originally–Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sergeant Taggart (John Ashton)–are now his allies) there is an inevitable lessening of tension. But they are replaced with at least one other ripe white jerk (Allen Garfield as a tyrannical new police chief) who should be funny. And Garfield is one of those actors who can almost guarantee at least a minimal number of chuckles. Yet, Scott breaks all the scenes between the two into a series of separate shots, and, though the scenes zip by with what looks like comic pacing, all the humor is dissipated. Murphy shoots in a good quick wisecrack now and then, but Garfield’s character-oriented humor disappears.
It’s possible Scott felt he had nothing to work with. The film’s plot, such as it is, barely exists, and the villains (who include Dean Stockwell and Jurgen Prochnow as well as Nielsen) aren’t very memorable. But he’s just looked beyond the racial, social, and sexual levels Murphy can bring to a part (Foley is completely desexed, by the way) and hyped up the flashiest elements he could find. Ultimately, Scott’s direction is inarticulate. His action scenes are quick, but only quick. It’s hard to tell in them who is where or who is doing what (just as it was difficult in his Top Gun to tell which jets were which and where they were coming from). The film has a fashionable smoky, yet unmotivated and irrelevant “look” to it, again one more suited to a fashion commercial than to a movie set in sun-drenched Beverly Hills. But, underneath all the distractions, there’s Eddie Murphy who, here at least, proves that he can carry a film on the strength of his talent alone. Because that’s the only engine at work here and, when all is said and done, Beverly Hills Cop II, for all its demands that the audience surrender its brains at the door, is pretty funny.