‘Beverly Hills Cop III’ Felt Like the End of Eddie Murphy

Beverly Hills Cop 3 movie poster

There’s a scene early on in “Beverly Hills Cop III” where we see Detroit Detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) walking down a tunnel located beneath the Wonder World amusement park. It’s almost a silent movie scene as Axel just walks and says nothing. In moments like these, Murphy is quick to come up with something very clever to make things lively, let alone funny, but here he does nothing but walk, and it represents the lack of passion he appears to have had for reprising one of his most famous cinematic characters. Murphy was paid $15 million for this long-awaited sequel, and watching him in it made me feel like he just took the money and ran.

When “Beverly Hills Cop III” came out in 1994, the same year I graduated from high school, I was very excited to see Murphy bring Axel Foley back to the silver screen as the first two movies in the franchise were among my favorites to watch over and over as a kid. But after watching him in this second sequel to Martin Brest’s 1984 smash hit, I felt like giving up hope of his career ever making a much-needed comeback.

As with the previous two movies, Axel Foley heads over to Beverly Hills following the death of a friend, in this case his boss, Inspector Douglas Todd (the late Gill Hill). Once there, he is reunited with his friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) who has since become promoted to the role of DDO-JSIOC, Deputy Director of Operations for Joint Systems Interdepartmental Operational Command. His partner John Taggart has since retired, and he now partners with Jon Flint (Hector Elizondo) who already knows all about the trouble Foley causes whenever he drops by. Unsurprisingly, Foley raises all kinds of hell as he infiltrates Wonder World, a Disneyland-like amusement park, where the criminal link he is seeking out resides.

The big news about “Beverly Hills Cop III” is it reunited Murphy with John Landis, the director who helmed two of his best movies, “Trading Places” and “Coming to America,” the latter which had them coming to blows to where they promised they would never work together again. Through the graces of the movie gods, they overcame the differences to work together again, but the end result proves to be infinitely depressing as their efforts cannot equal the comic genius which preceded it. Sure, there are some good moments like the mechanics we see singing “Come See About Me” by The Supremes, the hilarious blunder of a police raid at the movie’s beginning and a scene where Foley rescues kids on a ride which has malfunctioned, but they all feel half-realized. Having re-watched this sequel recently, I keep thinking of all the ways this sequel could have been improved, and the list of those improvements is depressingly long.

Years after its release, Landis described the making of “Beverly Hills Cop III” as being “a very strange experience.” He said the screenplay, written by Steven E. de Souza of “Die Hard” fame, was terrible, but he believed Murphy could save it with his unique brand of humor. But while we have come to know Axel Foley as a wise-cracking cop, this sequel sees him become a more mature character. This proved to be a big mistake as I went into this believing Murphy would not hesitate in bringing his unique sense of humor to this project. But in taking Axel Foley in a different direction, Murphy ends up subverting our expectations in a negative way. Some franchises thrive on evolution, but this one is the kind which thrives on familiarity as “Beverly Hills Cop II” did nothing to change the formula of the original.

Seriously, it feels like Murphy isn’t even trying here. Perhaps we have asked too much of him over the years as screenwriters feel they don’t need to provide him with much material because everyone believes Murphy can come up with comedy gold no matter what. Maybe the man who became a star on “Saturday Night Live” and in “48 Hrs.” felt it necessary to remind his fellow filmmakers of how he cannot always come up with the goods. Still, it looks like he is coasting on his ego and fame to get this sequel to the finish line, and he just ends up looking like a fool in the process.

Indeed, there is much about “Beverly Hills Cop III” which feels lacking. The first two movies were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, but they both bailed on this franchise and were replaced by Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme, best known for bringing the novels of Tom Clancy such as “The Hunt for Red October” to the silver screen. They seem an ill fit when it comes to the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise as they make this particular sequel feel bland and infinitely uninspired.

Also missing this time out is Harold Faltermeyer who famously composed the score for the first two movies and made the “Axel F” theme one of the most popular to come out of the 1980’s. In his place is Nile Rogers, but his presence only exacerbates what is not present here. John Ashton was unable to return, so his part was more or less rewritten for Hector Elizondo. Ronny Cox failed to return as Captain Bogomil, but he explained why during a 2012 interview:

“They wanted me to be in ‘Beverly Hills Cop III,’ but…I read the script.”

It is nice to see Reinhold back as Billy Rosewood, but he really doesn’t get much to do here. As for Elizondo, his character of John Flint is essentially John Taggart, and the only thing which has changed here is the last name. The fact these characters share the same first name should give you an idea of how hard the screenwriters worked at distinguishing the characters from one another (which is to say, not at all). For what it’s worth, Elizondo does have this sequel’s best line of dialogue:

“I got a wife and three kids. I haven’t seen a fifty (dollar bill) in twelve years.”

As for the villains of “Beverly Hills Cop III,” they are a bland bunch with little in the way of dimension to make them the least bit interesting. Timothy Carhart has given memorable performances in “Thelma & Louise,” “Ghostbusters,” “Witness” and “Working Girl,” but as Ellis DeWald, he doesn’t get much to work with. His character is essentially the one-dimensional villain who might as well tell the audience, “Hate me! I’m the bad guy and I am greedy. I live for money and nothing else!” Steven Berkoff, Jürgen Prochnow and Brigitte Nielsen had more to work with in the previous “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, so it makes me feel bad for Carhart here.

Did anyone escape the aftermath of “Beverly Hills Cop III” in one piece? Well, Bronson Pinchot does return as Serge in a cameo, and he is a very welcome presence as his character has gone from working in the art gallery to hosting the “Survival Boutique” which features a massive weapon which is even capable of making coffee, something I know a future version of the iPhone will be able to do. Theresa Randle also has some nice moments as Wonder World employee Janice Perkins, and she shares a good deal of chemistry with Murphy which, in retrospect, this sequel could have built more upon. I also remember audience members cheering loudly when Randle punched a bad guy in the face, and this reminds me of how this sequel came out in a time where we didn’t see enough women kicking ass like that. Thankfully, times have changed.

When “Beverly Hills Cop III” reaches its final act, it feels so lazily put together to where you wonder if anybody involved here just gave up before the production wrapped up. The defeat of the bad guy feels completely unfulfilling, and the revelation of another character seems just tacked on for no particularly special reason. Once the end credits came up, I found myself walking out of the theater very disappointed. The first two movies in this franchise were some of the most entertaining of my youth, but this one felt inescapably underwhelming.

Looking back, this seemed like the ending of Eddie Murphy’s career as the wisecracking comedian we came to love so quickly seemed to have disappeared forever. Granted, he scored a huge comeback with the remake of “The Nutty Professor” and went on to score an Oscar nomination for his performance in “Dreamgirls,” but “Beverly Hills Cop III” really felt like the end. We have seen Murphy go through so many ups and downs, and this one felt like the final straw.

As I write this review, the possibility of a “Beverly Hills Cop IV” is still in the air despite many false starts. Murphy has long since admitted how the third entry in this franchise was “atrocious,” so here’s hoping the next entry not only redeems the character of Axel Foley, but is also made with a lot of heart and thought. It’s not enough to please an audience. You need to give them a reason to pay for a movie ticket instead of just banking on their nostalgia. While you are at it, bring back Harold Faltermeyer. His music would be a very welcome addition, and it will serve as a reminder of how the 1980’s never left us.

* ½ out of * * * *

 

 

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Soundtrack Review: ‘Patriot Games’ Extended Edition

Patriot Games soundtrack

Patriot Games” was the second Tom Clancy novel adapted to the big screen after the huge critical and commercial success of “The Hunt for Red October.” But in the process of bringing Clancy’s heroic character Jack Ryan back for another adventure, many changes ended up taking place. John McTiernan stepped away from the director’s chair and Phillip Noyce came on board, Alec Baldwin was replaced by Harrison Ford, and Basil Poledouris stepped aside for James Horner who at the time was an A-list composer very much in demand.

La La Land Records has released a remastered and expanded soundtrack to “Patriot Games” which contains a lot of music never before released, source cues and the Clannad song “Harry’s Game.” The film has Jack Ryan stopping an IRA assassination attempt on the Royal Family, but this makes him the target of a renegade faction of terrorists, especially Sean Miller (Sean Bean) whose brother Ryan ended up killing. In scoring this action and suspense film, Horner creates a surprisingly understated score which features lovely Irish and Gaelic flavors, and he combines both electronic and orchestral music to highlight the movie’s action set pieces.

Now most action scores start off with a thunderous main title to get the audience all hyped up, but the main title for “Patriot Games” is surprisingly subtle and not the least bit bombastic. This turned out to be an excellent move on Horner’s part as this film proves to be a more personal one for Jack Ryan than “The Hunt for Red October.” Among my favorite tracks are “Attempt on the Royals” which underscores Ryan’s heroic save and the loss of Sean Miller’s brother, “The Hit” in which Jack rushes after his family to save them from the vengeful Sean, and “Assault on Ryan’s House” where IRA terrorists make their last effort to eliminate the brilliant CIA analyst. I’ve always been a sucker for adrenaline pumping film music, and Horner was one of the masters at composing it.

At the same time, I really liked the low-key music he comes up with like “Closing Credits” which is a piece of music great to fall asleep to. I kept thinking it was one of the singers from Clannad who did the backing vocals on this track, but it was actually Maggie Boyle whose voice is nothing short of heavenly. Horner is great at finding the humanity in the characters inhabiting an action movie, and his music can be both thrilling and highly emotional at the same time. Not many film composers can pull off such a feat.

Among the previously unreleased tracks, it was nice to see “Sean Obsessing in Jail” on this release as Horner gets at what is eating away at Sean whose obsession for avenging his brother’s death continues to grow and grow, and I also got a kick out of “Cooley Escapes” which follows a minor character in the film who suddenly discovers he is under police surveillance. As for the source cues, they include the “Washington Post March,” some traditional Irish music and some pieces composed by Mozart, I’m not sure how necessary they were to this edition of the “Patriot Games” soundtrack. At the same time, those additions prove just how serious La La Land Records is about giving fans the most complete soundtrack to a movie they could ever hope to have.

One interesting thing about this particular La La Land Records release is it doesn’t contain the original commercial release of the soundtrack. Other releases of theirs have had them on a second disc as a bonus for those who liked the original version. But in the end, I guess they decided not to include it because everything from the original release is on these two discs anyway. I do need to point out, however, there are two different versions of “Closing Credits” on this expanded version. One is listed as the film version, and the other is listed as the album version. The difference between the two is the film version is in English and the other one is not. Regardless of which version you find yourself liking more, it is great to have both of them here.

And like many La La Land Records releases, it does come with a booklet detailing the making of the soundtrack and the movie itself. The booklet is entitled “The Pluck of the Irish,” and was written by Jim Lochner who is the managing editor of FSM Online and the owner of the website FilmScoreClickTrack.com. Now I have reviewed several La La Land Records releases, but the booklet for “Patriot Games” is one of the best they have ever put together as Lochner covers just about every single detail about the movie more than ever before.

Among the memorable passages are why Neufeld didn’t bring McTiernan back for “Patriot Games,” how Baldwin reacted to not getting cast in the film, and how Clancy was constantly upset about the changes made in bringing his book to the big screen. In describing Horner’s score, Lochner writes it is a “subtle, understated score that percolates underneath the surface, conveying the tension of a family under siege and the terrorists’ patriotic Irish roots.” I think this is the perfect description for the music of “Patriot Games,” and Lochner, in writing about the other tracks, makes the case for why Horner should have received more attention for it when the movie came out in 1992.

Once again, La La Land Records has given film music fans another remastered and expanded soundtrack which is a must buy. In a career that has seen him create unforgettable film scores for “Titanic,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Glory,” Horner’s score for “Patriot Games” stands out as one of his most unique. It is at times an understated and at other times a pulse pounding listen, and the Irish elements he puts in reminds us of what a masterful composer he was. Now it has the soundtrack edition it has long deserved.

Click here to purchase the soundtrack.

 

‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ Forgets What Makes Tom Clancy’s Hero Stand Out

Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit movie poster

While watching “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” it didn’t take long to realize like the CIA analyst hero of the late Tom Clancy’s novels has been rebooted one too many times. After being portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, Jack Ryan got his clock turned backwards when Ben Affleck played him in “The Sum of All Fears.” I have no problem admitting I liked that film, but casting a younger actor as Ryan ended up screwing with the franchise’s equilibrium. Things were going smoothly beforehand, so why throw a younger actor, any young actor, into this role and take the audience back in time? Why not bring Baldwin back? When is all said and done, Baldwin is still the best actor to inhabit this character.

Well, now we have Pine taking over the role of the brilliant Jack Ryan, and this time the franchise goes right back to the beginning of Ryan’s career. What results is by no means a bad movie as it is well made, features a number of strong performances and some exciting action scenes. Regardless, there’s a feeling of emptiness at this film’s core. The problem it’s not much different from the many spy movies I have seen over the years and, as a result, feels largely forgettable.

For those who remember Fred Dalton Thompson’s character of Rear Admiral Joshua Painter from “The Hunt for Red October,” he gave a speech in which he talked about how Ryan was severely injured in a helicopter crash back in the 70’s and spent the following year learning to walk again. This is the Ryan we meet here when this film begins as he is compelled to enlist in the military after the events of September 11, 2001. From there, we watch him recovering from a helicopter crash, and he recuperates over time with the help of Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the woman we know will eventually become his wife.

During his lengthy recovery, Ryan is paid a visit by CIA official Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who recruits him to work for the agency. We then move forward ten years later to when Ryan is working on Wall Street as a compliance officer at a stock brokerage, but this job is of course a cover for his real work as a covert CIA analyst as he keeps an eye out for financial transactions which are suspect and may indicate terrorist activity. Upon discovering trillions of dollars held by Russian organizations have gone missing, the trail of criminality leads him to Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Ryan travels to Russia and, from there, things go bang, bang, bang like you would expect.

I think one of the big mistakes made with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was that the filmmakers decided not to base it on any of Clancy’s novels. I know Clancy was always highly critical of the way Hollywood treated his books and I’m pretty sure he would have had many things to say about this installment had he lived to see it. At the same time, his stories were always intricate and fascinating, and the screenplay here by Adam Cozad and David Koepp is both confusing and hard in comparison. As a result, it feels a surprisingly lightweight compared to the complex stories Clancy came up with.

In addition to playing Jack Ryan’s chief nemesis, Branagh also directed the movie and has come to show a real panache for filming exciting action scenes. There’s also a crazy car chase near the end which really did have me on the edge of my seat, and he has come a long way from directing big budget movies like “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” and “Thor.” Granted, you can’t go into this expecting something on the level of his Shakespeare cinematic adaptations, but he does provide the audience with a fun time. The problem is the story of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is very routine, and it was hard to get excited about what unfolded once I made this realization.

In all fairness, Pine does make for a good Jack Ryan in the way the character was written here. As tired as I am of movie studios making all these origin movies, Pine brings the same kind of energy to this role as he did to “Star Trek” as James Kirk. While this Ryan is not as interesting here as he was in the previous films, Pine does the best that he can with a somewhat underwritten part.

One performance in particular I want to point out is Costner’s as Thomas Harper. It’s fascinating to watch him here after having seen him as the heroic young soldier in movies like “No Way Out,” and he is aging nicely into the role of the elder statesmen who imparts his wisdom and advice to newbies. Part of the fun in watching Costner here is how mysterious he makes Harper. Ryan is not sure he can trust him fully, and Costner’s constant poker face throws not only him off, but the audience as well.

But despite all the good things about “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” the whole package feels far too ordinary for it to work effectively. We’ve seen this kind of story before, and not much was done to elevate it above the usual fare this genre has to offer. In the process of trying to make Jack Ryan young again in the hopes of jump starting this long-running franchise, they have robbed the character of what made him unique. In this film, he’s like any other young CIA recruit who has yet to understand what he’s getting himself into, and I have seen this scenario played out far too many times before.

For me, Jack Ryan was always the accidental action hero. He has a brilliant mind and always gets to the truth of the matter because he takes the time to study the individual at the center of the story. Like John McClane, he’s not out to be the hero and is always looking to avoid life threatening situations, but he eventually steps up to the plate because no one else can, and no else knows what he knows. If they ever do make another Jack Ryan, they need to make him the analyst he’s always been and not just start from scratch with an origin story. We know all about Ryan’s past, now let’s deal with his present and future. Is this too much to ask?

* * ½ out of * * * *