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A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : THE SAGA OF ‘COP III’ : ‘I’ll Never Work With That &?! Again!’ or, ‘Did I Hear You Say $15 <i> Million</i> ?’

When Hollywood Sequelitis becomes a course in film school, the case study on “Beverly Hills Cop III” will be an interesting read, involving one of the biggest players in town and a handful of wanna-be-agains.

In no particular order, the latter are Eddie Murphy, Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer, John Landis and Paramount Pictures. As to the former, it’s Mr. Sequel himself, producer Joel Silver of the “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” series. He’s the player who after nearly a year’s involvement said, in essence, I’m outta here.

But what distinguishes this sequel saga over others is how the deal fell apart for the two people who wanted to work together--Murphy and Silver--yet was finaly made between the two who no one ever thought would work together again--Murphy and Landis. Also, unlike many other sequels, none of the original major filmmakers, except for Murphy, will be involved in No. 3.

“It just goes to show you that when a project is as critical to a corporation like this is to Paramount, it’s viewed as a football that can be handed off to anybody,” said screenwriter Steven De Souza, whose various drafts for “Beverly Hills Cop III” persuaded Murphy to reprise his role as smart-mouthed Detroit cop Axel Foley.

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And the rub? Studio executives want the picture by next August, which means that it must be shot, edited and ready to release within six months of its Feb. 1 start date.

Why the rush, after “Cop III” was on the slow track in Paramount’s development department for years? Very simply, insiders say, because Paramount desperately wants a sure-fire hit after a year and a half of only sporadic box-office success, not to mention that a hit might help boost morale on the lot where more headlines have been created over who is chairman now of the motion picture division (Sherry Lansing).

Besides, Murphy is one picture into his four-picture deal there. As such, Paramount has acceded to the star’s $15-million salary demand. Add to this the salaries of the producers, the director and the screenwriter, and various fees paid to Eddie Murphy Prods., making the total “above the line” costs for “Cop III” $28 million--more than half of the movie’s $55-million budget.

Never mind that Murphy’s box-office cachet may not be in the blockbuster realm (over $100-million grosses), as evidenced by “Boomerang” and “Harlem Nights.” The jury’s still out on his current release, Hollywood Pictures’ “The Distinguished Gentleman,” which opened Friday. The cumulative box-office grosses from his previous Paramount pictures--"Beverly Hills Cop I and II,” “Trading Places,” “48 HRS.,” “Coming to America” and the concert film “Raw"--topped $1 billion.

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No Paramount executives were available to comment.

Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were eager to become involved. The duo wanted another crack at the big time following “Days of Thunder” in 1990. During filming, they had gained a reputation as profligate, indulgent filmmakers, which didn’t sit well with the Paramount brass. Ultimately, they were forced off the lot and now work under an exclusive arrangement at the Walt Disney Studios, where they are about to start their first production since “Days of Thunder,” the Dana Carvey/Jon Lovitz comedy “Bad Boys.”

Simpson and Bruckheimer pitched Murphy a Robert Towne screenplay idea (one in which Axel Foley has to deal with his celebrity cop status) and things went well enough, sources said--until the subject of their fees and a “final cut” provision came up in negotiations. Paramount would not make their deal, so Simpson, Bruckheimer and Towne exited last December. Since the producers own the story rights, they still get a million-dollar payout.

Theirs was one of a string of “Cop III” ideas Murphy had rejected in the last four years, including a scenario teaming Murphy with Sean Connery as a Scotland Yard detective and one from then-Paramount Pictures Chairman Brandon Tartikoff teaming Murphy with Paul Hogan in a third “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee.” (Calls to Eddie Murphy Prods. were not returned.)

Murphy called Joel Silver, who had produced Murphy’s movie debut hit, “48 HRS."--reportedly still the star’s favorite. Silver then called “48 HRS.” and “Die Hard” series screenwriter De Souza who, by mid-July, had a draft for Murphy. This time Axel Foley would be vacationing with his niece at a Southern California theme park when things go amok.

Paramount Pictures President John Goldwyn flew to New Jersey to deliver a draft to Murphy at his estate. With a few changes, Murphy was hot for the project. One condition: Paramount insisted it be rated PG-13. The profane Murphy persona was out; a kinder-gentler, more family-oriented Murphy was in. This movie had to appeal to teen-age audiences.

But things quickly became complicated. First, who would direct? The production would be complicated, requiring elaborate theme rides to be built, animated sequences, the hiring of hundreds of extras for the crowd scenes and lots of action--meaning an experienced director was a must. “Cop II” director Tony Scott said no. A roster of names including Joe Dante, Kevin Hooks and Robert Townsend, also circulated.

The choice? John Landis, a shocker to nearly everyone. Until a few weeks ago, Murphy and Landis hadn’t spoken in two years--after Murphy publicly derided the director after the two made “Coming to America,” vowing never to work with him again.

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Other directors reportedly viewed the prospect of working with Murphy and his entourage as “one giant headache,” a source said, whereas Landis was willing to forgive and forget. Landis’ fortunes have fallen considerably since “Coming to America,” with such duds as “Oscar” and “Innocent Blood"--not to mention the “Twilight Zone: The Movie” trial, where he was charged, though later found not guilty, with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three people. Sources said Murphy conceded that Landis knew how to direct him in “Coming to America” and “Trading Places.” In addition, the director isn’t intimidated by Murphy and “wouldn’t allow him to turn in another lazy performance,” a source said.

As one Hollywood wag put it, “I’ve heard of strange bedfellows, but this one takes the cake.”

Things became stickiest over Silver’s deal as producer. His fees, a “Silver Pictures” screen credit and other details, had been agreed to by Paramount Communications President Stanley Jaffe. There was a hitch, though. Jaffe decreed that Paramount would spend not more than $55 million to make “Cop III.”

With a longer pre-production schedule, that was possible, Silver said, but not by a Feb. 1 start date. To meet that objective, he would have to hire 24 hour-a-day crews resulting in massive amounts of overtime--a situation that got him into multimillion-dollar cost overruns on “Die Hard 2" and “Hudson Hawk” and heat in the press.

Jaffe stood firm and so did Silver. Silver was released from his contract. Murphy’s manager, Mark Lipsky, reportedly was angry and his client was crushed.

Silver’s reaction was said to be mixed. He was out big bucks but, as someone close to him said, felt that if he took on “Cop III” it would “definitely go $20-25 million over budget” and he would get “barbecued in the media.”

The job goes to producers Bob Rehme and Mace Neufeld, responsible for the successful Tom Clancy adaptations “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games.”


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