At this point, it is the stuff of Hollywood legend: the original screenplay for Beverly Hills Cop was written as a starring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone. It's hard to fathom that now, as both the film and its eventual star Eddie Murphy have become so iconic in our popular culture, but we were two weeks away from the Stallone version of Cop. He walked just before filming, though, and the producers decided to push it back towards comedy by hiring Murphy to take his place -- a choice that proved so successful that Cop wound up the top-grossing movie of 1984 (it even beat out Ghostbusters, for crying out loud). Stallone took his ideas for a more action-oriented version of the film and turned them into Cobra one year later, meaning we now live in a world with both the funny version of Cop and the trashier, more violent alternate reality version made by Stallone.
But there is a third movie that exists precisely at the intersection of the two films: 1987's Fatal Beauty. It takes the basic gimmick of Beverly Hills Cop -- drop a fast-talking comedian into a police procedural -- and adds the gratuitous bloodshed and mean-spiritedness of Cobra for a combination that's not quite action-comedy, but also not quite comedy. It's more of a straight action movie in which Whoopi Goldberg just happens to dress up in funny costumes at times.
Yes, Fatal Beauty is incredibly violent and bloody. A lot of people get shot. Interestingly enough, director Tom Holland's background was in horror films -- he wrote The Beast Within and Psycho II and directed both Fright Night and Child's Play -- but his horror movies were never all that violent. His action movie is three times bloodier than anything with which he was previously involved. It's very much a part of the squib-heavy '80s, when action movies were rated R and violence was wet and messy, not the bloodless, consequence-free stuff of today's PG-13 world. Fatal Beauty is my kind of slick, violent trash. That may sound like a pejorative, but the combination of any two of those qualities makes a movie a must-see for me.
The trashiness is embraced from the opening scenes, when some generic criminal scumbag types scream hateful insults at Rita regarding both her gender and her race. '80s gotta '80s. What's great about Whoopi Goldberg -- particularly the Whoopi Goldberg of this period, when she still felt streetwise and unpredictable -- is that she's tough enough to punch back. One might think she's ill-suited to headline her own action movie, but she's got the goods. She's got the right kind of fuck-you attitude to play an '80s cop, and when she reveals that she's got a history with drugs (in a dark and heartbreaking monologue that Goldberg really sells), it informs so much about Rita's attitude towards the people she's busting. But because the producers are clearly chasing that Beverly Hills Cop model (down to hiring Harold Faltermeyer to write the score, which fails to register), Rita's also got a chip on her shoulder about the bourgeoisie, too; in one of the film's most iconic moments (the one that was used to see it back in '87), she knocks a shit-talking, rich white woman through a glass door. She hates the upper class just as much as she hates the criminals. You might say she plays by her own rules.
There's very little about Fatal Beauty that cries out to be a comedy, and what comedy exists is not all that funny. It becomes a movie at war with itself -- one which satisfies neither audience. Anyone checking the movie out because they're fans of Goldberg's comedy will be horrified by the mean-spirited violence, while those who might be interested in it as an action movie might not give it a chance because they think it's another Jumpin' Jack Flash or Burglar or Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit or Theodore Rex. That's why columns like this exist: to tell you to watch Whoopi Goldberg movies you might not otherwise watch.
Road House) and Dean Reisner, a writer on many of Clint Eastwood's '70s efforts including the original Dirty Harry. So at least the movie comes by its violent nastiness honestly. As a for-hire director, Holland stages surprisingly effective action; the script is a muddled mess of motivations and machinations, but it works in the moment because Holland keeps it moving. The action is orchestrated with the flash and confidence of a Renny Harlin -- a comparison that, in this instance, is intended as favorable.
I love that you reviewed this movie. My Mom loved Woopie and Sam Elliot (cause what Mom didn't?!) and this was one that we owned on VHS and would watch over and over. People forget this movie even exists. Awesome, Patrick!ReplyDelete
I had a slightly different reaction when I watched this for (30) Stars of Summer lo so many years ago:ReplyDelete
"It's hard to believe now, but when she broke out in the 80s Whoopi Goldberg was brash, funny, even exciting. It's even harder to believe when you watch this lame star vehicle for her, a by-the-numbers action flick co-starring Sam Elliott at his absolute smarmiest. Bonus points for a Harold Faltermeyer score and the 80s-est opening credits font imaginable, but it's a plodding mess overall."
Now I want to give it another chance, though. Damn, I love #HeavyAction
Im not sure ive seen this though Whoopi and Sam together sounds good, There was another strange Whoopi film I only half remember that I think I thought was good at the time, a very different movie from her usual stuff. The Telephone! A crazy film if anyone else remembers itReplyDelete
A hard-R action movie starring Guinan?! I may need a warm cup of milk and a heavy blanket to process this... :PReplyDelete