Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 16, 2020)
When Eddie Murphy made Beverly Hills Cop in 1984, it clearly established him as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He’d done well with prior efforts, as 1982’s 48 Hrs. and 1983’s Trading Places were definite hits.
However, Cop was Murphy’s first full lead role. He costarred with Nick Nolte and Dan Aykroyd, respectively, in the earlier flicks, but Cop truly put Murphy at the forefront.
Obviously he responded well to this pressure. Cop was a huge hit that ended up as the second highest-grossing flick of the year with a take of $234 million.
When Eddie Murphy made Beverly Hills Cop II in 1987, he remained one of the top actors in Hollywood. Over the 30 months between the first Cop and the sequel, Murphy hadn’t done anything to raise his commercial profile
Murphy made only one movie over that span - 1986’s The Golden Child - and it received a decent but somewhat lukewarm reception from moviegoers. His attempt to become a singing star via 1985’s How Can It Be? didn’t exactly rocket up the charts either.
However, neither of those projects seemed to damage Murphy’s reputation, and Cop II enjoyed a positive commercial reception. The critics were less enthusiastic, but crowds still appeared interested, as Cop II grabbed $153 million and landed the spot as the third highest-grossing flick of the year.
When Eddie Murphy made Beverly Hills Cop III in 1994, he bordered on “has-been” status. Murphy hadn’t enjoyed a hit film since 1988’s Coming to America, as all of his efforts failed to reach any form of substantial audience. Even his last attempt to capitalize on an earlier hit - 1990’s Another 48 Hours - had tanked.
As we know, Murphy eventually would rekindle his career and become a film star again. However, this didn’t occur due to Cop III.
If anything, the third iteration in the series seemed like one of the deepest nails in his professional coffin. A big-budget spectacular that Paramount slotted for the key Memorial Day weekend release, the film totally bombed; it earned an anemic $42 million, or barely 1/6th of the first movie’s take.
Considering the man’s ample talents, Murphy’s fall from grace remains somewhat mysterious. It’s almost unbelievable to think that he made so many terrible flicks over the years.
But he did, and if you want to find a prime example, look no farther than the final (to date) tale in the life of Axel Foley. I loved Cop and thought that although Cop II was a pale retread of the original, it still had enough fun and chemistry to offer a reasonably entertaining experience.
No signs of that earlier spark appear during Cop III. Instead, we find a weak and generic action flick that offers virtually no substance, wit, or flair.
At the start of Cop III, we see Foley (Murphy) hard at work in his home confines of Detroit. He takes the lead in an investigation of a local car “chop shop”, but when some unknown baddies - led by Ellis DeWald (Timothy Carhart)- let loose with gunfire, the situation goes downhill. As part of the disastrous operation, Axel’s long-time boss, Inspector Todd (Gil Hill), gets killed.
Sound familiar? Both Cop and Cop II began with shootings that sent Foley on a mission of revenge, so the use of this same tired plot device in Cop III couldn’t be a positive omen. Anyway, Axel quickly discovers a connection between the killers and famed Southern California amusement park Wonder World, so he quickly scurries out to LA for more investigative fun.
Once there, he hooks up with his old partners. Actually, let’s make that old partner, as we’ve seen attrition across the three films.
Most of the supporting cast from Cop returned for Cop II. Of Axel’s friends, only Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher) failed to make the cut. (I’ve always wondered why.)
However, Cop III further reduces the cast, so of Axel’s three California police partners, only one appears here. Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) has been promoted to a position as the head of a cross-jurisdictional program that coordinates LA-area police activities across city and county lines.
Taggart has retired to Arizona. As for Bogomil - who got promoted to chief at the end of the last film - well, we’re never told what in the world happened to him. He just vanished!
That element offers one of the movie’s many nonsensical inconsistencies. For one, since the guys apparently became buddy-buddy over the years, it makes no sense that Axel didn’t know Taggart had retired.
Sure, people get busy and lose contact, but these dudes went on vacations together and risked their lives for each other. You don’t think Axel would get an invite to the retirement party?
At least they explain why Taggart wasn’t in the film, but Bogomil doesn’t get equal consideration. Apparently to compensate for the absence of so many prime supporting actors, Cop III does bring back one of the first film’s most popular characters, Serge (Bronson Pinchot), the flamboyant and ambiguous art maven with a fondness for espresso.
While Serge offered some of the original’s best bits, his return should not be seen as a positive. Instead, it’s a desperate move that tries to make us forget the movie’s many flaws.
It’s also nonsensical, as is much of the flick. Why does Serge appear in Cop III? There’s no sensible reason for this to occur.
When Axel turns his investigation toward Wonder World, he meets DeWald, who heads the park’s security force. Of course, Foley immediately recognizes him, and he flies off the handle at their first meeting. However, he then needs to do more research to find evidence to indict DeWald.
As also happened in the first two films, this area partially involves intimidation, and Axel loves to show up at social events and stalk the baddies. In this case, DeWald gets an award for his work at the park and also as a supporter of various causes.
This takes place at a private security expo, and coincidence of coincidences, it just so happens that Serge has changed careers! He now runs a boutique that markets designer artillery for the security-minded rich.
Ugh! Not only does this segment baldly steal from Chevy Chase’s 1983 flop Deal of the Century, but also it simply makes little sense. It seems far too opportunistic and silly.
Not that such characteristics make the scene stand out in Cop III, where the stupid becomes routine. At the start of the film, some of the mechanics at the chop shop perform a dance routine to the strains of the Supremes’ “Come See About Me”. Of course, the fact that the two performers are fat and grizzled makes this absolutely hilarious, right?
Wrong, and it’s just as inane and unfunny as it sounds. The segment comes across as pointless and nonsensical.
Is it supposed to offer a fantasy piece, or are we to believe that these guys actually do this kind of thing? Cop III doesn’t know, and the movie falls flat because of it.
Overall, the plot follows a pretty standard structure. Foley pursues DeWald with help from Rosewood and Taggart substitute Jon Flint (Hector Elizondo). This leads to an inevitable chase through the amusement park, but even those elements - which certainly had a lot of potential - fell flat.
Frankly, Cop III has almost nothing to do with the prior films other than the names of the characters. However, Axel and Rosewood feel different here, and they don’t seem like the same people.
Reinhold just looks embarrassed through the whole thing, and who can blame him? Murphy displays little of the charisma and spark that made him famous, and Axel turns into a virtual superhero at times.
In one scene, he rescues some kids from a collapsing ride via daredevil antics. Huh? Where’d that come from? It seems to exist solely to make Murphy look strong, and it has nothing to do with anything else.
Cop III offers a project borne solely out of desperation. It intended to salvage two failing careers: in addition to Murphy, it meant to bring director John Landis back to form.
Unlike Murphy, Landis has yet to return to prosperity, perhaps because the director was never all that talented in the first place. He created some reasonably good movies over the years, but Landis lacks the flair that might have made his work more memorable.
Landis was absolutely the wrong choice for Cop III. His background remains in comedy, but he went the wrong direction for those scenes, as the movie’s broad inanity feels weird in the Cop universe. Landis shows absolutely no talent for the action sequences, as those seem flat and generic.
How in the world did Beverly Hills Cop III actually make it into the marketplace? Obviously all involved thought there was still money to be made off the franchise, but I guess they were wrong.
Actually, there may well be additional profits to stem from the Cop domain, but Cop III was the wrong project. A witless, dull, and absurd movie, it offers virtually nothing interesting or enjoyable.
Trivia item: the original Cop came in second place to Ghostbusters as the biggest hit of 1984. Carhart played a small role in Ghostbusters as the musician acquaintance of Dana’s who Venkman mocks.