by Anthony King
Coming into production on Beverly Hills Cop, things had essentially been up in the air the entire time. First there were script issues and dozens of rewrites. Then there was the whole Stallone debacle. And then after nagging, begging, pleading, and ultimately a literal coin flip, they nailed down a director. But by the time everything was set to go, Paramount had already delayed production by over a month. Since Stallone was no longer the star, everything had to be changed – more rewrites, new settings and props and decorations, new costumes. In an interview with the New York Times, producer Don Simpson said, “ We wanted Eddie [Murphy] to look like a kid, 23 years old, an athlete who never went to college or who went to college but got hurt.” This meant they had to find just the right sneakers, jeans, and sweatshirts. But Eddie gave a thumbs down to all the options presented to him. It looked “too slick,” he said. Director Martin Brest and Eddie were on the same page, though. “It was important that Foley was totally unassisted by anything material. That's why he has a junky gun, a junky car. He's almost a zen character. All he has are his wit, intelligence, humor, guts and street smarts.”
While production had a “shooting script” per se, with the brilliant mind of Eddie Murphy on set, the script became more of an outline. It was changed day to day; scene to scene, even. With the blessing of Petrie, Simpson, and Jerry Bruckheimer, Brest didn't see any good coming from forcing Eddie to conform to the words in front of him. Instead, the director encouraged Eddie to improvise as much as he wanted and write his own dialogue. When they'd get to a scene where nothing was working and the words coming out just didn't sound natural, Eddie would create something on the spot and voila, they'd have new dialogue or an entirely new scene. “It's spooky,” remembers Brest, “But every time we got into a jam, I'd turn to Eddie and say, 'Can you come up with something?' And every time, he came up with something that knocked me to the floor. He's a director's dream. He magnifies every bit of work you do by a thousandfold.” For instance, the scene where Murphy's Foley works his way up to meet Victor Maitland for the first time, Brest had six different drafts of the scene laying in front of him and he didn't like any of them. He called his star over to show him what he was working with. “[Eddie] closed his eyes and six seconds later he said, 'I've got it.' He then went through the entire spiel in character. I turned to him and said, 'God bless you.' We shot it in 15 minutes. It's one of the funniest scenes in the movie.”
While the cast and crew had a tough job in keeping it together during these moments, no one had a harder time than Martin Brest. The director eventually had to leave the set because he would burst out in laughter and keep ruining takes. Since the real Beverly Hills Police Department wouldn't permit production to even tour one of their stations let alone allow these scenes to be shot on location, Brest and his team had to do a little improvising themselves. Since he was fired from WarGames, Brest never had the opportunity to shoot on the set they designed for that film. And since he brought over his production designer from WarGames, Angelo Graham, they basically built the exact same set for the Beverly Hills Police Department because Brest loved the design so much. One of the scenes shot on that set happened towards the very end of production. Everyone was exhausted, there was no oxygen flow on the set, and it was very hot. Now, Murphy is famously sober, having never done drugs or consumed much alcohol in his long career – a miracle in and of itself. He also never drank caffeinated beverages. But on this day of shooting, even Eddie himself had no energy. So he decided to drink his first ever cup of coffee. “He brought an insane amount of energy,” Brest says on the Blu-ray commentary. This was another instance where the director had to excuse himself from the set and move to another room where he watched on a monitor with headphones. Eddie was so on fire that day that even in another room, Brest was laughing so hard and loud they had to cover him with padded blankets to mask the sound.
And the final shot – that freeze frame that has haunted Martin Brest ever since. The studio was insistent on cutting the scene where Maitland meets with Jenny at the art gallery. The executives didn't see the point. Brest argued, though, that it was the impetus for Axel breaking into the mansion at the end to save her. That scene at the gallery showed Maitland's true villainy. The studio had a compromise, then. They'd always wanted the movie to end on a freeze frame, which Brest detested. Brest could keep his art gallery scene if the movie ended on the freeze frame of Eddie. Brest made a deal with a devil and his groaning can still be heard at night.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave it 2.5 stars, calling it "a movie with an enormously appealing idea,” but also saying, “The filmmakers apparently expected Murphy to carry this idea entirely by himself... Murphy is one of the smartest and quickest young comic actors in the movies. But he is not an action hero, despite his success in 48 Hrs., and by plugging him into an action movie, the producers of Beverly Hills Cop reveal a lack of confidence in their original story inspiration.” Janet Maslin of the New York Times was more generous with her take on Eddie. “Although Beverly Hills Cop is less strictly a comedy than Trading Places was, it loses nothing by allowing Mr. Murphy a broader role; his brashness is as well suited to detective work as to sweet-talking his way out of trouble. He comes closer than ever to being able to carry a film single-handedly, although this one surrounds him with an excellent supporting cast...” The Hollywood Reporter also gave the film high praise. “Larcenously full of the high-tech production values one has come to expect from wunderkind producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, this lickety-split action comedy is distinguished by the wry, character-conscious direction of Martin Brest, who coaxes a silver-bullet performance from star Eddie Murphy that’s practically criminal in its accuracy.”
Beverly Hills Cop would gain several awards nominations, including an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for best picture comedy or musical, and best actor. It would also garner two wins: a People's Choice Award for favorite motion picture, and a Grammy for Harold Faltermeyer's iconic score. Beverly Hills Cop also held the honor of highest grossing R-rated film in the United States for almost 20 years until The Matrix Reloaded took the top spot. And, lest we forget, Beverly Hills Cop was such a hit it would go on to create a franchise with two sequels.
Whether the idea came from Don Simpson or Michael Eisner, the synchronization of the Hollywood gods gave birth to one of the greatest action-comedies in history. So many things, as is the case in most creative endeavors, had to come together at exactly the right time. We could've had an '80s cop movie starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by David Cronenberg. We could've gotten nothing at all. Instead, we got Eddie Murphy and Martin Brest, an unlikely match, but a perfect match nevertheless.