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Beverly Hills Police Officer

A Beverly Hills Police Officer Was a Renegade Police’s Valentine. The New Film Attempts a New Angle. How good of a cop is Axel Foley anymore?

In the blockbuster 1984 film Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy’s character Axel Foley tells two Beverly Hills police detectives, “You fucked up a perfect lie.” A Detroit police officer named Foley works as a freelance investigator in California. He recently persuaded two stiff local officers to accompany him to a strip club, where he stopped a robbery attempt. He informs the BHPD lieutenant, covering for everyone, that the arrest was made by “supercops” Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton). Foley is perplexed when the captured officers acknowledge that he accomplished everything. He remarks, “I’m trying to figure you guys out, but I haven’t yet.” “But it’s really cool.”

Eddie Murphy’s rise to fame from the first Beverly Hills Cop cannot be overstated. From December 1984 to March 1985, the film led the box office for 13 weeks, making history’s highest-grossing R-rated film. Murphy triumphantly returned to hosting Saturday Night Live; he amassed enormous wealth for Paramount; and he produced an album so serious that Annie Leibovitz took the cover picture of Eddie reclining on a white piano. (Party All the Time is such a terrible song that not even releasing it could make him less popular.)

The film that brought it all together was one of the greatest Hollywood star vehicles ever created; it was specifically crafted to highlight Eddie Murphy’s best qualities, including his motormouth wisecracking, blue-collar intelligence, upbeat attitude, and composure. All the while, it turned him into the maverick cop, the archetype of toughness from 1980s action films. Axel Foley skillfully plays off the white-bread police officers he meets in Beverly Hills by becoming Black. Knowing how things are done in Detroit, Foley sets out to teach the by-the-book department what it takes to solve a real crime in a real city upon arriving in the fantasy paradise of Beverly Hills.

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The storyline of the first Beverly Hills Cop is, in fact, Foley showing the Beverly Hills officers the power of breaking the law. He does this by talking his way into warehouses without a warrant, defying orders, charging into a house with a gun drawn, and covering up all the misbehavior he happened to commit while battling a drug-smuggling art gallery owner. You might not remember this the way you remember Serge’s meek malapropisms or Murphy’s contagious laugh. Foley congratulates the same BHPD lieutenant after the film’s pivotal gunfight—not for saving lives, but for lying to the chief.

The original and its early sequels upheld the idea that police work may be beneficial when done properly, that is, with a healthy contempt for formalities and regulations. Foley, Rosewood, and Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) have to deal with a bureaucrat who has been promoted to chief. This bureaucrat is an idiot who, as far as everyone is concerned, knows nothing about actual police work. (The buddy officers still stop a burglary ring and kill all the bad guys, despite his intervention.) The head of security for an amusement park and a dishonest Secret Service agent are the antagonists in Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), but the police fight valiantly—security guards who are machine-gunning, for example—to bring them down.

When Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F debuts on screen thirty years later, police officers are in a very different place. It is difficult to see a studio these days creating a car for a young, up-and-coming Black star in which he played a police officer. Superhero? Yes. A gun-wielding person wearing a badge? Not in a manner. Axel F is the first film in the series to address the groundbreaking idea that it could be detrimental for police to lie and conceal their wrongdoings, at a time when the focus on police is shifting from showcasing their bravery to exposing their shortcomings.

In the opening scene of Axel F, Axel Foley is shown less as a law enforcement officer and more as the mascot of the city of Detroit. He can be seen driving his terrible car, waving to his friends on the street, and graciously receiving abuse from children. Following the iconic opening car chase and gunfight, Paul Reiser’s character, Officer Axel Foley’s long-suffering chief, takes a stand to save Axel’s career—not because he believes Detroit needs Officer Axel Foley, but rather because he believes Axel Foley needs the position. Even though Foley is a dinosaur of a police officer, he has no other interests.

After hearing from his friend Rosewood that Foley’s estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige) is in danger, Foley decides to return to California. She is a lawyer attempting to exonerate a suspected cop killer whom she feels was set up. Rosewood concurs and has strained relations with the chief, his former associate Taggart, due to Rosewood’s allegations of corruption in a drug task force under the direction of Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon).

The film’s plot, written by veteran LAPD investigator Will Beall, is as straightforward as it gets while still managing to be complex. We never question for a second that Jane and Rosewood are correct despite all the turns and turns. Bacon has been incredibly unreliable since his first on-screen role. Foley remarks, “He’s the first police captain I’ve ever seen wearing $2,000 Gucci shoes.” Due to their advanced age and lack of celebrity, Rosewood and Taggart are largely ignored in the film. Instead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Bobby Abbott, an astute and methodical detective working to solve the murder case, provides Cade Grant with a formidable opponent within the BHPD.

The dramatic arc of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is Axel discovering the almost unchecked power of a cop who’s willing to lie about everything, if the dramatic arc of Beverly Hills Cop was Axel teaching Rosewood and Taggart that it’s OK to lie sometimes when you’re a cop—that you don’t have to do everything by the book. Many people’s life can be made difficult by a corrupt police officer in a position of authority: Foley himself, attacked on an L.A. street by gunmen sent by Grant; Jane, dangling out of the window by masked men; and the fall guy, imprisoned and accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

Grant grins and tells Foley about the creative policing in his own past in response to Foley’s question concerning the freelance thugs he employs for his department’s nasty work. He says, “Axel, you know what I’m talking about.” “You yourself are not an altar boy.” Grant says he’s got a lot of pressure on him to find the killer of one of the policemen on his task force. What will he do to get the proof he needs? He declares, “I will do whatever it takes.” It requires abducting Jane, putting narcotics in Bobby Abbott’s vehicle, and torturing Billy Rosewood.

It’s not like Axel Foley doesn’t understand what constitutes improper behavior by cops. He chuckles, “I been a cop for 30 years,” as he is being arrested by beat cops who tell him not to grasp for his badge. I’ve been Black for a very long time. I promise—I am more knowledgeable. It’s that he, like the film, distinguishes between a good bad cop who occasionally breaches every law and a real bad officer who breaks them all for the right reasons. The demands of the classic action-comedy are too great for this delicate distinction to handle. The movie is having a great time by the time Foley and his two partners, Bobby and Billy, go on a crazy police chase through L.A. freeways. Abbott murmurs, “Never been on this end of a chase before.” With a deranged smile, Rosewood declares, “It’s an acquired taste.” “Have you been to a strip club with him yet?”

During the film’s climactic confrontation, as Grant and Foley exchange gunfire, Grant attempts to permanently blur their differences. He says, “We’re just a couple of lonely old cops.” “What actions will we take? Murder one another? What use does that serve?

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