Tony Scott’s “Beverly Hills Cop 2” (1987)

Tony Scott followed TOP GUN’s (1986) mega success with a big-budget sequel to one of the biggest film franchises of the 1980’s.  BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 (1987) features Eddie Murphy at the top of his game– a bittersweet sensation considering how dismal his career has become.  Proving that Scott had the chops to handle a huge franchise film, the movie builds on his penchant for slick action and stylish visuals, while also delivering a heavy dose of humor throughout.

I haven’t seen any of the other BEVERLY HILLS COP films, so I had a fair amount of catch-up to play in regards to figuring out who these characters were.  Murphy is the wise-cracking, fast-talking Axel Foley (a zeitgeist 80’s name if I ever heard one), who’s tendency to shoot off his mouth rather than his gun gets him into a fair amount of trouble.  Presumably, he returns to his native Detroit after whatever happens in the first film, where he is called back to LA’s sunny streets when his friends at the Beverly Hills police force run afoul of a nefarious crime syndicate.

An effective comedy relies on strong performances, and BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 certainly delivers.  This younger, edgier Murphy is infinitely more watchable than today’s hollow incarnation.  80’s comedy personalities Paul Reiser and Judge Reinhold presumably reprise their characters from the first film.  Reinhold’s character was my personal favorite– an uptight, whitebread guy who becomes loosened up throughout the case and finally lets himself have some fun.

I got the biggest kick, however, from all the celebrity cameos throughout.  Chris Rock shows up as a valet at the Playboy mansion, long before anyone knew his face or name. Hugh Hefner shows up too, looking a spry 25 years younger than what I’m personally used to seeing.  Gilbert Gottfried even shows up, using his unmistakeable screech of a voice to great effect as a smarmy lawyer.  Celebrity cameos in general tend to be a cheap gimmick, but Scott uses them to solid effect here and keeps our attention from flagging.

Despite it being somewhat of a broad action comedy (and a sequel warranting a look similar to its predecessor), Scott utilizes all the hallmarks of his trademark style here.  Lensed in the Academy aspect ratio by TOP GUN’s Director of Photography Jeffrey Kimball, the picture is quintessentially Scott: high contrast, with saturated (yet naturalistic) colors favoring warm orange tones when in Los Angeles, and cold blue tones when in Detroit.  Lighting is also supplemented by bursts of neon and that old standby: overblown light filtering in through venetian blinds.  He also retains his affectation for dramatic, orange skies.  It’s a good fit for the subject matter, and the sunny climes of southern California.

Other visual tricks include mounting cameras to moving vehicles, like Foley’s sports car.  It comes off as a ground-based interpretation of the epic camera-mounted shots of fighter jets in TOP GUN.  The camerawork is steady and mostly stationary.  Again, he relies on cuts and composition to tell the story, rather than relying on moving the camera.

Scott retains the services of TOP GUN’s composer, Harold Faltermayer, who creates a synth-y electronic score that reprises the iconic BEVERLY HILLS COP theme song (admit it, you’re humming it along in your head right now).  Scott also peppers the soundtrack with popular contemporary rock songs– which means that twenty five years after its release, it now just sounds incredibly dated and silly.  However, the film is clearly a product of its time, so the music is congruent with all the other outdated elements.

All in all, the film is consistent with the then-burgeoning Simpson/Bruckheimer brand.  It’s a mass market release that deals in the heights of 1980’s escapism- fast cars, big sunglasses, tropical locales, high-riding bikinis, and long hair.  It’s notable as Scott’s first overt comedy, albeit wrapped up in action that’s more along his wheelhouse.  It would be entirely disposable entertainment if not for the BEVERLY HILLS COP brand (which has no cultural cache with me personally, but certainly does for a large swath of the population).  If anything, the success of BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 proved that Scott’s success with TOP GUN was no fluke– he was one of the top mainstream Hollywood directors of his time, and he was there to stay.

BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 is available via high definition Blu Ray from Paramount.

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