Franchise Killers: Beverly Hills Cop III
It’s easy to forget this now, but once upon a time Eddie Murphy was the coolest and funniest guy on the planet. In the early 80’s, his movie career got off to a fantastic start with 48 Hours and Trading Places, But it was 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop that officially made Murphy a major movie star. Three years later, Murphy reprised his role as Axel Foley in an action-packed sequel. Beverly Hills Cop II wasn’t nearly as good as the first movie, but as 80’s action movies went, it was better than most. Then Murphy decided he wanted to do other things for a while. By the time he got around to Beverly Hills Cop III, ten years had passed since the first movie and no one cared anymore. Especially Murphy.
In 1988, Murphy was still one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But he was getting tired of doing the same schtick in every movie and wanted to branch out. His solution was star in a romantic comedy. Coming to America allowed Murphy to play multiple characters and to showcase his trademark humor, but it also allowed the actor to show his sensitive side. For the first time, Murphy wasn’t just playing a charismatic motor-mouth. He was a romantic leading man. The comedy managed to appeal to Murphy’s core fan base while reaching out to a broader audience.
Coming to America was directed by John Landis who had directed Murphy in his earlier hit, Trading Places. According to Landis, Murphy changed between making the two movies:
The guy on Trading Places was young and full of energy and curious and funny and fresh and great. The guy on Coming to America was the pig of the world – the most unpleasant, arrogant, bullshit entourage… just an asshole… We clashed quite a bit because he was such a pig; he was so rude to people. I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, Eddie! Who are you?’ We had a good working relationship, but our personal relationship changed because he just felt that he was a superstar and that everyone had to kiss his ass. He was a jerk.
The feeling was mutual. The way Murphy tells the story, Paramount wasn’t interested in hiring Landis after all the bad press he got for Twilight Zone: The Movie. For those who don’t know, Landis directed a segment in the movie which was set in Vietnam. In a tragic accident involving a helicopter, actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed. Making matters worse, the scene was being shot late at night when the child actors weren’t legally allowed to be working. Landis and several others involved in the production were charged with manslaughter. After a nine-month trial, they were ultimately acquitted.
Murphy said he felt bad for Landis whom he had befriended while making Trading Places, so he went to bat for his friend. According to Murphy, Landis immediately started demanding more money and Murphy insisted Paramount pay up. But Murphy claims Landis was not at all grateful for the favor. He says Landis got on the set of Coming to America and started throwing his weight around. Murphy said Landis was upset that Murphy never showed up to support him during his nine-month ordeal in court. Eventually, things got heated.
One day, Murphy had some writers on the set working on a script for a TV show his company was producing. When Landis saw the writers, Murphy says the director made a scene. Murphy recounted the incident in a Playboy interview:
I playfully grabbed him around the throat, put my arm around him and I said to Fruity, one of my guys, ‘What happens when people put my business in the street?’ And Fruity said, ‘they get f*cked up.’ I was kind of half-joking. Landis reached down to grab my balls, like he also thought it was a joke–and I cut his wind off. He fell down, his face turned red, his eyes watered up like a bitch and he ran off the set. F*ckin’ punk.
He came to my trailer later and made this big speech. His voice was trembling. And it all came out: that he didn’t think I was talented, that the only reason he did Coming to America was for money, that he didn’t respect me since I hadn’t gone to his trial and all this bullshit. All this f*cked-up shit. Called me ignorant, an asshole.
I’m sitting there shattered; I’m thinking, This f*cking guy. I bent over f*ucking backward to get this guy a job. He probably won’t even acknowledge what happened. He didn’t realize that his f*cking career was washed up. So I told him, ‘The next time you f*ck around with me, I’m gonna whip your ass.’
Later on, when asked about the possibility of working with Landis again, Murphy said that Landis had a better chance of working with the late Vic Morrow than of ever working with him again. Harsh. But oddly, it was Murphy who reached out to Landis to make Beverly Hills Cop III.
By that point, the third Beverly Hills Cop movie had been stuck in development limbo for years. Early scripts had Murphy solving a crime in London. At various points, both Sean Connery and John Cleese were considered to costar. Judge Reinhold, John Ashton and Ronny Cox were all supposed to return for the third movie. But as production on the sequel got delayed over budget concerns, Ashton and Cox had to move on due to other commitments.
Eventually, the London concept was scrapped because the storyline was deemed to be to close to the plot of the Michael Douglas movie, Black Rain. So Die Hard and Commando screen-writer, Steven E. de Souza, was hired to write a new script. What he came up with was essentially Die Hard in a theme park. The budget for de Souza’s script was estimated at $70 million dollars. But Paramount got cold feet after Murphy’s latest movie, The Distinguished Gentleman, disappointed at the box office. They demanded the budget be dropped to $55 million. Murphy was getting paid $15 million, so that only left $40 million for the rest of the movie. As a result, action scenes were cut and replaced with scenes of Murphy conducting an investigation.
Landis said the movie “was a very strange experience. The script was not any good, but I figured, ‘So what? I will make it funny with Eddie.’ I mean, one of the worst scripts I ever read was [the original] Beverly Hills Cop. It was a piece of shit, that script. But the movie is very funny because Eddie Murphy and Martin Brest made it funny. And with Bronson Pinchot…that was all improvised. Everything funny in that movie is not in the screenplay, so I thought, ‘Well, we will do that.’ But then I discovered on the first day when I started giving Eddie some shtick, he said, ‘You know, John…Axel Foley is an adult now. He is not a wise ass anymore.’ I believe he was very jealous of Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes doing these straight roles. So, with Beverly Hills Cop III, I had this strange experience where he was very professional, but he just was not funny. I would try to put him in funny situations, and he would find a way to step around them. It is an odd movie. There are things in it I like, but it is an odd movie.”
Co-star Bronson Pinchot corroborated Landis’ assessment of Murphy’s mood while making Beverly Hills Cop III:
Eddie was going through his period at the time of doing movies that were not hits, and he was very low-spirited, low-energy. I said to him, ‘All anyone ever wants to know when they meet me is what you’re like.’ And he said, ‘I bet they don’t ask that anymore.’ And then when we did a scene, we were shooting, and he was so low-energy that John Landis sent him upstairs and said, ‘Just rest, Eddie, and I’ll do the scene with Bronson.’ So whenever you see my face in the movie, I’m not really talking to Eddie, I’m talking to John Landis.
Murphy is an undeniable talent. When he is on his game, he lights up the screen. But when he’s bored with a movie, it’s really obvious. That was one of the reasons for his career slump at the time. He very visibly was bored with his own movies. Audiences who showed up expecting to see the Eddie Murphy of old were instead disappointed by an Axel Foley who was going through the motions.
At the time Beverly Hills Cop III was released, Murphy said it was “infinitely better than Beverly Hills Cop II”. Years later, Murphy changed his mind and called Beverly Hills Cop III “garbage”. Critics and audiences agreed with latter-day Murphy. Beverly Hills Cop III flopped. It opened in third place at the box office and quickly disappeared from theaters. For a long time after that, there was absolutely no demand for any more Beverly Hills Cop.
But since everything old is new again, there have been efforts to revive the series. Murphy was attached to a fourth film recently, but he didn’t like the script. He filmed a pilot for a TV show. But the show would have starred Brandon T. Jackson as Murphy’s son who followed his father into law enforcement. Unfortunately, CBS thought audiences would only accept the show if Murphy was in every episode. So the show wasn’t picked up. Today, the status of the Cop franchise is unknown. Murphy is the franchise and he doesn’t seem especially interested in continuing.
Let’s break this down:
How many movies in the series? 3
How many of them were good? 1
Health of the franchise before it died? Asleep
Likelihood of a reboot? If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be for lack of trying
Any redeeming value? Do you have insomnia?