An immediate breakout talent on “Saturday Night Live,” Eddie Murphy teamed with Nick Nolte and Dan Aykroyd for early movie successes, but “Beverly Hills Cop” rested squarely on his shoulders.
The 1984 action-comedy — which Cinemax shows along with the two sequels as a Thanksgiving feast Thursday, Nov. 25 — was an enormous hit that left no doubt that Murphy had arrived on the big screen. Envisioned earlier as a project for such performers as Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone, the final version wisely left plenty of room for Murphy’s brand of improvisational humor. And even if it wasn’t really improvised, it sure felt that way, playing right into the Murphy style.
The actor-comedian plays fast-talking Detroit police detective Axel Foley, who goes AWOL to California to get to the bottom of a longtime friend’s murder. He’s very clearly a fish out of water, and his manner of playing by his own rules greatly worries the Beverly Hills lieutenant (Ronny Cox) and police partners (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton) who end up keeping an eye on Foley as he continually rocks the figurative boat.
Fortunately, the visitor has another friend (Lisa Eilbacher) who’s on the West Coast, but her employer is a gallery owner (Steven Berkoff) who may have something to do with the death in question. Jonathan Banks, more recently known for “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” makes his presence known with few words as the possible villain’s henchman.
In fact, though it’s a star vehicle for Murphy, “Beverly Hills Cop” is very generous in giving supporting players their moments under the direction of Martin Brest (“Midnight Run,” “Scent of a Woman”). Another great example of that is Bronson Pinchot, priceless in his moments as forked-tongue gallery worker Serge, who alternately confounds and amuses Foley.
Another strength of “Beverly Hills Cop” is its hit-driven soundtrack led by Glenn Frey’s theme song “The Heat Is On.” The Pointer Sisters had a huge success with “Neutron Dance,” and composer Harold Faltermeyer even scored on the charts with his “Axel F” instrumental.
While Murphy hasn’t blazed as brightly at the box office in a while, there’s been talk for some time of his returning in a “Beverly Hills Cop 4,” which currently is set up as a direct-to-streaming Netflix project. Whether or not that ultimately comes to be, he’ll always be able to count the original film as one of the top victories in his career … and it hasn’t lost any of its sizable entertainment value over the better part of 40 years.