There was a memorable moment in "Beverly Hills Cop" when Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley jammed a banana in a parked police car's tailpipe.
Walking out of "Beverly Hills Cop III," you may be moved to ask, "Anybody have a banana for this movie?"
The existence of this film is a testament to star power--or, to be more precise, recycling power. We're supposed to be so grateful to once again see Eddie Murphy as Axel that we can overlook how crude and shopworn this picture really is. It's one of the most cynically engineered sequels ever.
The kicky appeal of the "Cop" series--at least potentially--has always been the idea of a street-smart black cop from Detroit who outmaneuvers the (mostly) white Beverly Hills honchos who underestimate him. It's a neat racial joke that provided a few chuckles in "Beverly Hills Cop" and virtually none in its hyperpowered, Stallone-ish sequel.
Stallone, in fact, was originally supposed to star in "Beverly Hills Cop," and the series has never gotten very far from his overmuscled shadow. For most of the way in "Beverly Hills Cop III" we might as well be watching any old standard-issue action hunk dodging bullets and lobbing grenades (and, in a masterstroke, saving children in peril). But Murphy gives us less than those action hunks do; he's playing out his own fantasy image of a righteous avenger, and the fantasy is essentially humorless. There's little trace of his gift for con-man mimicry. It's as if he set out to trash his own franchise.
Once again Axel, wearing his Detroit Lions jacket, is brought back to Beverly Hills from Detroit to track down the killers of a close associate. And once again he gets propelled into shootouts and car chases with a clan of murderous nasties, headed by John Saxon and Timothy Carhart. Their base of operations is a theme park called WonderWorld, which--how'd you guess?--features a dinosaur ride. "Jurassic Cop," anyone?
The Beverly Hills police force retains series' regular Judge Reinhold, who now has his own office and his own SWAT team. Bronson Pinchot also turns up again as the oddly accented Serge. He has graduated from an art gallery to a boutique selling personalized luxury weapons, which is a fair way of gauging how far the inspiration in this series has dropped.
At a time when police detective shows on television are better than they ever have been, what excuse is there for the slovenliness of "Beverly Hills Cop III"? Director John Landis and screenwriter Steven E. De Souza (who worked on "48 HRS." and the "Die Hard" films) are strictly smash-and-grab guys. Like the other films in the series, this one has no muscle tone; it wobbles opportunistically between wan slapstick and routine bang bang, with lots of gratuitous cheesecake for scenery.
It's not easy to make audiences laugh at a comedy where characters are actually shot on camera. And, in the post-Rodney G. King era, a racially tinged film involving cops and violence in L.A. carries a lot of unwanted baggage.
Taken simply as pure action, the mayhem in this movie may be routine but, in the context of a knockabout comedy it's deeply offensive. The film begins with a bunch of workmen in a Detroit auto shop shimmying to a record by the Supremes. The scene is played for broad, dumb laughs; then, in a scene that's not played for laughs, they get bloodily ventilated.
But it's near the end, when the assorted good guys wobble and collapse into frame with their wounds, that the corruption of this enterprise sinks in.
There's a fundamental lack of human feeling in "Beverly Hills Cop III" that makes you want to avert your eyes from the people around you when the lights come up. Attending this movie makes you feel like an accomplice to the corruption.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and some violence. Times guidelines: It includes graphic language, much graphic violence, imperiled children in an amusement park setting. 'Beverly Hills Cop III'
Eddie Murphy: Axel Foley
Judge Reinhold: Billy Rosewood
Theresa Randle: Janice
Hector Elizondo: Jon Flint
A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme production in association with Eddie Murphy Productions. Director John Landis. Producers Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme. Executive producer Mark Lipsky. Screenplay by Steven E. De Souza. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg. Editors Michael Ripps and James Mitchell. Costumes Catherine Adair. Music Nile Rodgers. Production design Michael Seymour. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.