Archive for the ‘Eddie Murphy’ Category

BEVERLY HILLS COP III is not as bad as anyone says it is.  That’s not to say it’s particularly great.  And maybe you shouldn’t listen to me anyway, because I saw it more than once in the theaters, and I can promise you that at the time I was as excited to see a new BEVERLY HILLS COP movie as most people my age would have been to see a new STAR WARS movie.  Most guys my age grew up wanting to be Han Solo.  I grew up wanting to be Axel Foley.  And a movie where Axel Foley investigates a murder at an amusement park?  Directed by John Landis (ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, SPIES LIKE US)?  Yeah, that’s a movie a sixteen-year-old Jon Abrams wants to see very much, thank you.

The first BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984, d. Martin Brest) is a pretty-much perfect Hollywood movie, a fish-out-of-water story with genuinely hysterical one-liners, an earworm of a main theme, a terrific supporting cast that includes Ronny Cox, John Ashton, Judge Reinhold, and the super-cute Lisa Eilbacher, at least two enjoyably-hissable villains (Steven Berkoff and Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks), and a comedic supernova of a leading man in Eddie Murphy, on a streak that went from Saturday Night Live to 48 HRS. to TRADING PLACES to his concert film DELIRIOUS and then here, to the biggest box-office hit of 1984.

The second BEVERLY HILLS COP II recently got a bump in its critical esteem with the too-belated outpouring of respect for the work of its director, Tony Scott.  I’m a big Tony Scott fan, but not as much a fan of BEVERLY HILLS COP II.  It’s a few notes too aggressive for my tastes, with villains that aren’t as much fun to hate (Jürgen Prochnow, Brigitte Nielsen, Dean Stockwell, and Gilbert Gottfried) and a dark and depressing overcast that sees Ronny Cox’s Capt. Bogomil sidelined throughout the entire movie.  The first film had moments of real darkness and danger that made it work for me, but somehow it was upsetting to have a character I liked so much shot down and left by the side of the road like that.  It must be how nerds of a different variety feel about Hicks and Newt in ALIEN 3.

Of course, Ronny Cox didn’t even show up for BEVERLY HILLS COP III.  As he told the great Will Harris over at the Onion’s A.V. Club, the script (allegedly) wasn’t so hot.  John Ashton (Sgt. Taggart) didn’t show up either, reportedly unavailable due to scheduling.  Those two characters, Bogomil and Taggart, were the strongest foils to Eddie Murphy’s  Axel Foley character, and their grudgingly warming up to him is what gave the franchise almost all of its heart and soul.  Without them, something’s missing.  In BEVERLY HILLS COP III, Bogomil goes unmentioned and we’re told that Taggart retired and moved out of state.  Even the puppyish Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold’s character) is trying to act more serious and mature.  Rosewood has a new, gruff, mustachioed partner, Jon Flint, played by Hector Elizondo, but let’s face it, the only one happy about that replacement is Garry Marshall.   The third movie, even more than the second, feels like its genesis was motivated out of less than artistic reasons.

BAM Cinematek is playing BEVERLY HILLS COP III as part of their terrific “American Gagsters: Great Comedy Teams” film series.  I’m torn between applauding the left-field choice and wondering why they didn’t go with the more popular and frankly more successful pairings of Eddie Murphy and director John Landis — TRADING PLACES and COMING TO AMERICA.  Those two films were much bigger creative and critical successes, and along with 48 HRS. and the first BEVERLY HILLS COP, are the foundation of Eddie Murphy’s onscreen comedic persona.  Apparently, John Landis and Eddie Murphy had a serious falling-out after COMING TO AMERICA (my heart hurts just typing that), and BEVERLY HILLS COP III was their reunion.  It came at a time (1994) when Eddie’s fortunes were shifting a little — his movies continued to make money but among many of his fans, they weren’t nearly as universally beloved.  Maybe Eddie was trying to recapture some of the old magic by bringing Landis back.  It could have worked.

I’ve always wondered what the tipping point was with Eddie Murphy.  For a time, he could do no wrong.  Then I started hearing people bagging on his movies, and what a disappointment he’d become.  No one thinks he still isn’t, somewhere inside himself, the most incendiary and fucking funniest comedian on the planet, but plenty of people seem to think he’s given up.  I don’t see it that way, but venture off my page and look elsewhere on the internet — it gets scary out there.  I think I can argue my point with the clear evidence that there are plenty of bright spots in Eddie’s post-1980s output:  THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (obviously), DOCTOR DOOLITTLE (fuck you, I laughed), LIFE (hugely underrated), BOWFINGER (a little underrated, definitely underseen), DREAMGIRLS (all-the-awards-worthy), TOWER HEIST (his performance, not the movie, which is otherwise pretty lame).

But there was a definite shift in Eddie’s persona that happened between COMING TO AMERICA and BEVERLY HILLS COP III.  The wisecracking, authority-demolishing, devil-may-care Eddie started to get romantic.  In my opinion, this really kicked into gear with BOOMERANG, a movie some people still love a lot, though you’ll see early traces of it in COMING TO AMERICA and then in Eddie’s own directorial debut, HARLEM NIGHTS.  I don’t have a problem with that — why shouldn’t Eddie get some onscreen, same as any other movie hero? — and in fact film historian Donald Bogle raised a similar point about BEVERLY HILLS COP — exactly why isn’t Lisa Eilbacher a romantic interest for Eddie in that movie?  (Of course we all know the old, bad answer to that one.)  But when a comedy icon becomes a romantic lead, that requires some changes to his onscreen persona.  BOOMERANG Eddie Murphy is going to have to be a different guy in a lot of ways than 48 HRS. Eddie Murphy, or even GOLDEN CHILD Eddie Murphy.

In keeping with this line of thought, here’s one element of BEVERLY HILLS COP III that is actually underrated, and even better than the previous two installments:  Axel Foley gets a love interest, and she’s actually worthwhile, at least by 1990s big-budget comedy romantic interest standards.  Theresa Randle is an actress we don’t see much anymore, but she worked with Spike Lee and Abel Ferrara and had a role in both BAD BOYS movies.  She has a rather thankless role in BEVERLY HILLS COP III, as a park employee who helps Axel Foley out, and the romance doesn’t go too far, but at least it’s played by a capable actress who can suggest some subtext.

Eddie Murphy

Maybe I’m easy on BEVERLY HILLS COP III because of that reason, or because on BAM’s page they have a John Landis quote which makes it sound more promising than it ended up:  “I was attracted by the marvelous premise of a murder in Disneyland, a subversive idea. And I couldn’t resist the thought of creating a world of wonders, immersed in illusion.”  The second half of that quote is Landis overselling it a little, but the first half is a genuinely good reason to make a movie, especially for a gleeful cinematic anarchist like him.  There are a few factors why the final edit of the movie feels more toothless than it should — budgetary cuts, rumblings of creative differences — but there’s still stuff to enjoy. The director cameos.  The name of the main villain (“Ellis DeWald.” Say it! It’s fun!)  The orchestral reworking of the “Axel F” theme, by Chic’s Nile Rodgers.  The fact that so far, fingers crossed maybe, it’s the last time we’ve seen Eddie Murphy’s most iconic character  a movie screen.  You guys go hang out with Han Solo all you want.  I’d still rather hang out with this guy.

BEVERLY HILLS COP III plays tonight at BAM Rose Cinemas.

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  A vintage classic is “re-imagined” for a modern era, with mixed results.  It’s a pretty common joke nowadays, but back in 1984 it was still fairly novel.  Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds is a loose remake of Jacques Tourneur’s impeccable noir Out Of The Past (1947), with Jeff Bridges stepping in for Robert Mitchum, Rachel Ward stepping in for Jane Greer, and James Woods stepping in for Kirk Douglas.  I’m a huge fan of the original film, written by Daniel Mainwairing (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers), who adapted Out Of The Past from his novel “Build My Gallows High“, which he wrote under the name Geoffrey Homes and which I’ve read and can highly, highly recommend.

So it’s fair to be skeptical of any 1980s movie that is meant to walk in those shoes, but it’s apparent that Against All Odds, however artistically successful it may or may not be, was at least very evidently a passion project, having generously made room in the cast for a pair of vintage noir icons.  It’s like the way Stan Lee keeps being dutifully included in all the Marvel movies, only the point of comparison would be if he got to play Doctor Doom.  Interestingly enough, original femme fatale Jane Greer has a role in the newer movie, playing the mother of the character she would have been playing in 1947, and in a bizarre but very welcome nod to noir history, veteran actor Richard Widmark gets to play the nefarious string-puller — it’s only bizarre because while Widmark played the heavy and the hero in so many classic films, none of them happened to be Out Of The Past.

That eagerness to pay tribute to the soon-extinct lions of noir is what endears this movie to me, even as its conflicting filmmaking approach probably disqualifies it as the real thing.  Journeyman director Taylor Hackford made the huge hit An Officer And A Gentleman right before he made Against All Odds, and that brand of sweeping romanticism somewhat clashes when grafted onto a genre of lovecrimes, coldblooded violence, and heartless betrayals.

Unlike authentic film noir, Against All Odds is a film drenched in daylight.  It begins with its hero, Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) roaming a tropical paradise, in search of an heiress, Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward) who has gone missing and who Brogan has been hired to find by her boyfriend, skeezy bookie Jake Wise (James Woods, who else?), against a competing offer from Jessie’s mother (Jane Greer) and her consigliere (Richard Widmark).  The fact that all these people can find no headhunter any more experienced than Terry Brogan, who is an aging football star eager to reignite his fading career, is a bit of a head-scratcher which the movie doesn’t seem bothered to pry into too deeply.  Terry has betting history with Jake, which means Jake has him over a barrel, but still, if you have a mystery to be solved, do you hire a Tom Brady or do you find a Lt. Columbo?  And again, doubling back after the initial tropical opening, to go into football-field flashbacks isn’t exactly fertile noir territory.  After a brief cameo from the great Bill McKinney as the head coach of Terry’s team, the trainer Terry turns to in his hour of need, Hank Sully, is portrayed by one-time NFL star Alex Karras, best known to most of us for his henchman role in Blazing Saddles and for playing Webster’s dad.  It’s no great surprise that Sully turns out to have a role in the network of double-crosses that ensues, but with bad guys like this one, it is hard to buy into the menace that the movie kind of needs to be a true noir.   James Woods does supply some snakish creepiness, especially in a legitimately-terrific practical-stunts sportscar scene where he and Bridges race each other in actual traffic on Sunset Boulevard in West L.A., but the plot sidelines and neuters him in ways Kirk Douglas never had to worry about in the original.

The main point of interest in this film, and the reason why 92Y Tribeca screened it recently, is that it is a lesser-remembered part of the filmography of Jeff Bridges, who is now finally receiving his just due on a widespread basis.  As an older character actor, he’s endlessly fascinating, but as a leading man, he had an all-American quality that led some to undervalue his acting talent.  There was never anything bland about Jeff Bridges, and taking another look at even his earliest movies confirms it.  There’s an edge and a viciousness that creeps into Bridges’ portrayal of Terry Brogan that gives the movie more weight than it would have had with any other lead actor.  I don’t believe that this is a very great noir, but he’s good at playing a noir hero.  The other thing you’re going to notice about him in this movie is, “Holy crap that guy is good-looking.”

I don’t care how straight you are, and I’m pretty damn straight so I will venture to speak for the species, but it’s pretty impossible not to notice that this is some attractive dude.  Rachel Ward is a pretty excellent-looking woman, but she’s away from the screen for large stretches of this film, whereas Jeff Bridges is on screen pretty much the entire time.  It definitely occurred to me more than once that “If I looked like that, I’d probably only have half the problems I have now.”  This movie ogles Jeff Bridges the way most movies ogle beautiful women.  Maybe that was the intent.  Maybe this was meant to be a new hybrid: chick-flick film-noir.  If that’s the case, more power to ’em.  But please, watch the original first.

Now there’s only one thing left to address about Against All Odds, and that’s the elephant in the room:  Phil Collins.

Phil Collins wrote and performed the title track, which became one of his signature songs, and in retrospect the song is probably more famous than the movie from whence it came.  You really can’t watch the movie now and not be nervously anticipating the arrival of Phil Collins.  I’m not slagging Phil Collins — I think it’s a good song and I happily admit that I like it, even though I think the dramatic kicking in of the drums is a bit of a bite off of Phil’s own song “In The Air Tonight” — but again, this is not the kind of tune that ever would have accompanied a classic studio noir and all you have to do is turn on TCM to see what I mean.  A real film noir could never provide you with your wedding song, ladies and gents.  A real film noir might make you consider swearing off the notion of romance for at least as long as you forgot you swore it off.  Not to mention the fact that there’s not a great reason for this movie to be named “Against All Odds” except for the fact that it has a song called “Against All Odds” at the end of it.  I can’t say I was completely unaffected by that ending — I’m only human, damn it! — but again, it’s not of a tone that truly fits the genre of films the movie seems to have planned to homage.  True noir achieves a poetic bleakness, not a romantic yearning.  I suppose what I’m saying is, Against All Odds succeeded in getting its title track stuck in my head, but the rest isn’t quite as inescapable.

P.S.  If you were wondering why Against All Odds reminds you so much of The Golden Child, it’s because both movies share a cinematographer (Don Thorin) and a composer (Michel Colombier.)  Also, if you look closely, you can see Victor Wong fly through one of the island scenes in the form of a tropical bird.

(Yes, this was a very strange place to make a very specific reference to The Golden Child.)

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48 Hrs. is the midnight movie this weekend at IFC Center in New York City.  This movie is important for what it represents in the continuum of American action movies, and surprising as a viewing experience if that first point is all you know about it. Directed by essential action auteur Walter Hill and starring Nick Nolte, 48 Hrs. is most famous for introducing film audiences to the comedic A-bomb that was Eddie Murphy, and as a result revolutionizing the politics of action-comedies.

 

 

 

There were buddy-comedies before 48 Hrs. (for example: Freebie And The Bean), and there were black & white crime-fighting duos before 48 Hrs. (for example: the Hill-scripted Hickey & Boggs), but the violent electricity generated by Nolte and Murphy in 48 Hrs. is what made the genre an American institution.  It’s impossible to imagine now, but in the years before 48 Hrs., Nick Nolte was a leading man, a pretty-boy, reportedly considered for the role of Superman, and Eddie Murphy was absolutely no one.  What you have in this movie is Nolte, cresting forty and heading towards the grizzled character-actor persona that he’s occupied ever since, and Murphy, barely out of his teens, furious, with everything in the world to prove and ready and willing to conquer.  The blond, blue-eyed, middle-American shitkicker and the quick-talking black kid from Brooklyn — the conflict is coded directly into the casting.

 

 

Nolte’s Jack Cates is an embattled detective who is chasing down a pair of cop-killers (James Remar and Sonny Landham).  Needing a lead, he goes to see an imprisoned colleague of one of the criminals, Murphy’s Reggie Hammond.  Jack borrows Reggie away from the penal system for the titular amount of time, and the search begins.  What’s amazing about this plot, and what everyone who hasn’t seen the movie in some time seems to forget, is that this isn’t a comedy plot.  48 Hrs. isn’t a comedy, hardly at all.  It’s a prime-era Walter Hill movie.  It’s a low-down, gritty, ruthless action movie.  The supporting cast includes awesome and fearsome career tough guys, including James Remar (The Warriors), David Patrick Kelly (also The Warriors), Brion James (Blade Runner), Sonny Landham (Predator), and Jonathan Banks (Beverly Hills Cop, more recently Breaking Bad).  Make no mistake, 48 Hrs. is an action movie before and after anything else.  It just happens to feature Eddie Murphy.

 

 

Eddie Murphy was — and still is, somewhere within him — one of the most incendiary comic talents this country has ever seen.  It’s little coincidence that he did such a killer James Brown impression, because he really is the James Brown of comedy.  Just a thorough, unforgettable, timeless talent, and a peerless entertainer right out of the gate.  I mean, I think Eddie only recently turned fifty.  It’s insane to contemplate how young he was when he tore right into the role of Reggie Hammond, singing “Roxanne” by The Police in a jail cell in a hilarious falsetto — one of the more indelible cinematic debuts I could ever name.  Eddie’s every scene lifts the movie into vivid comedy, just by proximity to the supernova of his talent.  In hindsight, that’s why 48 Hrs. is remembered as more of a comedy than it actually is in practice.  Eddie is an absolute firecracker in this movie, completely unintimidated by Nolte’s lurching and barking, giving as good as he gets.  And neither of these guys pulled a single punch — they portrayed two guys who HATE each other.  The dialogue between Jack and Reggie is as vicious as it is funny, and usually more of the former than the latter.  And to this day, their speech is uncompromisingly uncomfortable.  Among plenty of other awful epithets, Jack calls Reggie “nigger”.  To my ear, that’s not enjoyable banter, but it is scarily honest.

 

 

 

That was probably one of Eddie Murphy’s most significant artistic contributions:  As the first comedic superstar of the hip-hop age, he scorched the earth, loudly and with style, and boldly went after the racism that still existed then (and still does today, although just a little bit less as a result of the accomplishments of himself and others).  In 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy gets the blond, blue-eyed action hero to shout that awful, awful word  — but somehow that’s a weird kind of progress.  Okay, we all heard it, now we know what’s under the blond, blue-eyed surface.  Now it’s out in the open.  Now we can deal with it.  If we don’t acknowledge the sick American shit under the polite veneers, there’ll be no solving it.  Meanwhile, if you’re a little kid watching Eddie in movies, you’re not thinking about any of this specifically.  If you’re a little kid, you just fucking love him.  I know growing up I personally never wanted to be Captain Kirk or Captain America or Luke Skywalker or Han Solo — I wanted to be Axel Foley.  Eddie Murphy brought this rare energy and charismatic anarchy to movies that for all its cultural significance, was also just plain cool.  He was Bugs Bunny come to life.

 

48 HRS.

 

With all that charm, there’s no way that Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond wouldn’t ultimately come to an understanding, a partnership even.  And there’s no way that his performance in 48 Hrs. wouldn’t have made Eddie Murphy a star.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb