Tom Jolliffe looks back at Eddie Murphy’s first two sequels, Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Another 48 Hours…
With Eddie Murphy hitting the comeback trail recently, and venturing back to sequel territory with Coming 2 America, now’s a good time to look back at the beginnings of The Murphy Sequel. The standup comedian turned actor hit high gear pretty quickly in his transition to a big screen superstar. 48 Hours broke Murphy out in a big way and he cemented his status with Trading Places and then Beverly Hills Cop. In the late 90’s, Murphy’s career transitioned very much into family friendly territory, but in his golden period during the 80’s, he was very firmly an R rated star. Murphy’s gutter mouthed comedy on stage was nicely translated to big screen comedy. Even in the action heavy theatrics of 48 Hours or Beverly Hills Cop, there was a big focus on Murphy’s quick fire, foul mouthed dialogue. Audiences loved it.
It was apparent to studios that Murphy’s presence meant big bucks and the man had a particular popularity with young adult males (occasionally those younger than the R rating should have allowed). Murphy was hilarious, brash and crude. It struck a chord. Beverly Hills Cop for a long time was the highest grossing R rated film. Ironic that it was initially destined to be a Stallone vehicle (something Stallone admits to regretting, particularly to redevelop his ideas into Cobra). Much like RoboCop, though thoroughly un-child friendly, it just seemed to play extremely well with young folk (and adult males most definitely).
It wasn’t all plain sailing through that period though. Much was put into The Golden Child, and indeed the studio made the first attempt to hit the PG-13 audience with Murphy. The film in time has developed a certain charm, as one of the stranger Indiana Jones riffs of the 80’s, and most definitely rides off Murphy’s charm (even if he’s restrained and a little awkward). It bombed. Following the success of Trading Places, Hills Cop and 48 Hours, it put the fear into producers. Murphy could certainly sell, but needed the right vehicle. Of course in the mid 80’s sequel fever was beginning to rise. The Hollywood landscape was blockbuster driven now. A return to the tried and trusted was inevitable for Murphy. That first sequel came in the form of Beverly Hills Cop 2.
Most of the gang from the original return, with a new batch of villains. There’s a certain consistency among many 80’s-90’s sequels; Repetition. If a gag worked first time around, then you might as well fire it off again. Beverly Hills Cop 2 would repeat jokes and indeed the focus on Axel Foley’s gift for talking his way into situations (or blagging himself a mansion to stay in). In several regards this isn’t a great film. The original received an Oscar nod for best screenplay. No danger of that on this occasion, and the set up of the films opposing force to Foley is never as interesting or tidily constructed as the first film. Everything feels like it’s knocking off its predecessor, and never quite hitting the same levels.
However…there’s still a lot to enjoy in the second instalment. Tony Scott takes up the directing mantle. The film isn’t as well put together all told as the first film. Martin Brest was certainly great at fish out of water or mismatched partnerships (see also Midnight Run). Scott’s stylish visuals feel just that bit more dazzling, even if they’re essentially more hollow. There’s also great action. Despite repetition of gags there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had watching Murphy in his pomp (the repetition of the sack lunch bomb gag, is played with a wink, and still funny). Though the villainous combo of Steven Berkoff and Jonathan Banks is sorely missed (particular as the usually excellent Jurgen Prochnow is misused and off par), Brigitte Nielsen offers a great presence. It’s perhaps one of her best roles, making perfect use of her statuesque form and imbuing her with a dark stoicism. The film wouldn’t hit the lofty box office heights of the first but was certainly a money spinner and return to form after The Golden Child.
Coming To America would mark another success but then the skids again…Harlem Nights. By no means a major bomb at the box office, it brought together Murphy and the comedian who blazed the trail for him, Richard Pryor. The film, which Murphy wrote and directed ended up critically derided, a film oft thought of as in a nether world between drama and comedy, not quite succeeding in either (and also dismissed as a vanity project gone awry). For Murphy and Pryor, they were playing restrained, and the audience didn’t take to it. So then what happens? Another 48 Hours. Murphy returned to his breakout role.
If Beverly Hills Cop 2 felt a little lazy, this one flips up the barcalounger, unbuckles its pants and plants itself on easy street. Plenty of repeated gags, and some elements thrown in to reignite some comical animosity between Murphy and Nick Nolte. As far as lazy sequels go, it’s not Home Alone 2 by any means, but it does coast. There is a however, however…with Walter Hill still at the helm and cranking up his Peckinpah styled set pieces, this film is pumped full of impressive action and set pieces. It may well lack the intense villainy of James Remar and Sonny Landham, but we get enough badness from the baddies to root against them and Hill’s gift for well orchestrated carnage is fully on display.
Nolte feels oddly lacking verve in this one, and even Murphy lacks a certain spark he had as the young and hungry star of the first film. Maybe there’s a sense both were back for the paycheck, or a surefire hit to put enough credit in the bank to make some more personal projects. There is something oddly comforting about a lazy sequel, in the same way that having a lazy day and doing sod all is quite fun. Watching Hills Cop 2 or Another 48 Hours (or Home Alone 2, Ghostbusters 2) just feels familiar, a welcome extension to a better story. Like playing the yearly released video game sequel that never feels that different than last years. In addition, there have been enough godawful sequels around (Beverly Hills Cop 3, I’m talking to you) that something safely aiming for first base rather than a homer feels okay.
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Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.