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'Beverly Hills Cop II'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 21, 1987


Tony Scott
Eddie Murphy;
Judge Reinhold;
Jurgen Prochnow;
Ronny Cox;
John Ashton;
Brigitte Nielsen;
Allen Garfield;
Dean Stockwell
Under 17 restricted

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"Beverly Hills Cop II," the new sequel to the hugely popular Eddie Murphy comedy about a brash Detroit detective working undercover in Gucci central, has sleek lines and goes from zero to 90 in nothing flat. It's not really a movie; it's a racing machine, built for speed, not for pleasure (or intelligibility). Watching it shakes you right down to your bones; you're trembling when you walk out -- but not from laughter.

Tony Scott, who directed last-year's top-grossing movie, "Top Gun," is the master blaster of the movie business. He and the film's producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who also brought us "Cop I" and "Top Gun," have found the mass audience's solar plexus and they hammer away at it mercilessly. They're deadly body punchers, and some members of the audience may experience this sensation as genuine pleasure; they may like having their guts shaken for them. Granted, it gives you the kind of total-body experience that television can't provide. On the other hand, there's nothing you can get from "Beverly Hills Cop II" that you can't get from jacking up your Walkman full blast and hopping in the dryer.

It's a movie made with that special Simpson-Bruckheimer mixture of video-intensive imagery and eight-figure tastelessness. As such, "Beverly Hills Cop II" is the purest expression we've seen so far of the Simpson-Bruckheimer esthetic: It's fast, rich-looking, empty and proud of it. It's an homage to sleaze.

"Beverly Hills Cop II" is a kind of Bond film masquerading as an urban police comedy. The tale focuses again on the exploits of Axel Foley, who comes out west to solve a series of brain-teasing heists called the "alphabet crimes." The perpetrators are a clack of storm-trooping master crooks led by Jurgen Prochnow -- his underlings are Brigitte Nielsen and Dean Stockwell -- and they've made the mistake of shooting Lieutenant Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Axel's adversarial pal from the last movie.

But it's not the story itself that's offensive; it's too hackneyed and insubstantial for that. It's what's underneath that's unsavory.

On one level, what "Cop II" is really about is how dumb white people are. There's nothing wrong, per se, with getting laughs at the expense of white people. (Richard Pryor's impersonations of persnickety whites were wondrously funny in his first concert film.) But here it's used as a way of building up Murphy; it's a cheat.

The central situation in the film is that Murphy, being an inappropriately dressed black man -- this time he wears the Mumford High T-shirt under a Detroit Lions jacket -- is denied entrance to some posh (white) establishment. Being out of his jurisdiction, he can't use his policeman's badge to gain entry, so he is forced to call upon his cagey mixture of chutzpah and street smarts to sham the gatekeepers into letting him in. And, white people being the suckers they are, they always let him in (although they usually throw him out again).

The movie's racism, however, is balanced; it works just as hard to support black stereotypes as it does white ones. The black biases, though, are more deeply woven into the film's sense of things. In one scene, Axel and his sidekicks, Rosewood and Taggart (Judge Reinhold and John Ashton), try to break into a building. Rosewood and Taggart are, of course, at a loss. First, what they're doing is illegal and for some reason, this seems to bother them. And second, they couldn't get into the building even if they wanted to. But Axel has the magic touch. "You know, I did other things before I became a police officer," he tells them as he uses the foil from a chewing-gum wrapper to bypass an alarm. Rosewood and Taggart's reaction is one of awestruck worship, kind of like the one Moses must've gotten when he split the Red Sea.

The Education of Whitey is the subtext of "Cop II." Street-smart in this context it's meant to convey that Alex is more connected to the raw, real world, more alive -- and, implicitly, more sexually alive -- than his white buddies. And the whites take his abuse because, in their heart of hearts, they know they're wienies. Ultimately, what the movie does is set up the white fear of impotence versus the myth of the black superstud. When, at the end, Murphy tells his two bumbling pals that, pretty soon, they'll be just like him, it's the ultimate compliment.

The movie is a monument to male sexual prowess. Except that there's no sex. With the exception of Nielsen, who's a kind of life-size Barbie doll -- hold a flame to her skin and it would melt -- the only female character is Lt. Bogomil's teen-age daughter, with whom Alex has an older-brotherly relationship.

In "Cop II," Murphy is presented as the new movie superhero, Superman and James Bond rolled into one. And he's the resurrection of an old heterosexual hero, a throwback to a misogynist's man's man who seems to have sprung full blown out of the pages of 20-year-old issues of Playboy.

But it's not the Axel character who's on display here, it's the star. The movie isn't really saying the greatest thing in the world to be is a black man: It's saying the greatest thing to be is Eddie Murphy.

It may be a miscalculation on Murphy's part to think that his audience is going to follow him in this conception of the character. Murphy, who with the exception of "Best Defense" has managed to transcend the coarseness of his vehicles, doesn't get off so easily here. In the past, he's floated gracefully through his films, a charmed princeling blowing kisses to the devoted but never touching ground. Murphy's a natural screen performer: He reacts to the camera as if it were a fact of nature, as you or I might react to friends or family members.

But in "Cop II," some of that easy, Teflon charm has worn off. The message Murphy sent audiences in his previous movies was that the material didn't matter: that he was the one who mattered. Murphy's sending the same message here, but he appears less assured of how it will be received. His performance has a desperate edge; he's like a used-car dealer putting on the hard sell.

In "Cop II," Murphy stands outside himself, looking at himself, admiringly. But his self-involvement here doesn't come across as it has in the past -- as a young performer's unabashed joy in his own cleverness. It's more like arrogance. What seems to be happening to Murphy is something that can often happen to stars who become isolated in a heaven all their own. They can start to think that they don't need anybody. And then, even the audience is unnecessary. Beverly Hills Cop II, at area theaters, is rated R and contains profanity and some scenes of violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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