"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Beverly Hills Cop III

May 25, 1994

BEVERLY HILLS COP is one of those movies that was huge for me as a kid, but that I don’t really care much about anymore. Its significance to me was that it was my first theatrical R-rated movie and an important early chapter in my appreciation for the art of cursing. Also my brother bought sheet music for Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F Theme” and learned to play it on piano. That song is still a jam, but the movie is just one of those things I see parts of on cable and find some bits mildly amusing. I thought I remembered liking the very stupid, but more stylish sequel directed by Tony Scott when I watched it a long time ago, but reading my review again I don’t sound all that enthused.

For those reasons I was actually pretty optimistic about checking out BEVERLY HILLS COP III (which I definitely didn’t see in theaters, think I saw on video at some point, but maybe not because it didn’t seem very familiar). I figured since I don’t have much of an attachment to those other ones I would be more open to it than all the people who hated it at the time. And though I understand the modern rejection of director John Landis (COMING TO AMERICA) due to the fatal helicopter crash on the set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, I happen to really love some of his movies, and think he’s a good director. Plus this is written by Steven E. de Souza (48 HRS., COMMANDO, THE RUNNING MAN, DIE HARD, RICOCHET). And the one thing I remembered was that there were scenes shot at Great America, a theme park my family used to go to when visiting grandparents in California. I thought that might be cool to see.

Um, yeah, this is pretty bad though. Starts out semi-interesting, gets very tedious. Oh well.

Detroit police detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, TRADING PLACES, BOOMERANG) is back to busting car thieves in the Motor City, showing up at the door and asking “Is this the illegal chop shop?” Funny, Axel, but we heard that one before. He convinces his superior officer (real life police officer turned politician Gil Hill) that he doesn’t need the S.W.A.T. team for this bust because they’re non-violent, which is one of the semi-interesting parts until the boss gets killed by guys with machine guns and the lesson is that Axel’s de-escalation attempt was a mistake.

But the thing that’s cool here is that the actual guys working in the shop are not evil, and in a very John Landis touch are introduced dancing around lip syncing to “Come See About Me” by The Supremes. I had a genuine laugh when one of them got so into it he did a cartwheel. You don’t want these goofballs to get into too much trouble, especially after they inform the guy who hired them that they don’t hurt people in their robberies. But the boss is a psycho named Ellis DeWald (Timothy Carhart, PINK CADILLAC, THELMA & LOUISE, RED ROCK WEST) who shoots them as soon as he verifies that they have the cargo he needed from a stolen truck.

There’s a pretty cool car chase, but Axel’s pursuit is stopped by Secret Service agent Fulbright (Stephen McHattie, DEATH VALLEY), who says he has to let the killer go so the federal government can surveil him as part of a larger investigation. This does not go over well with Axel.

When DeWald got out his gun it was wrapped in a towel with the name Wonder World Hotel embroidered on it. For a second I liked that because I took it as a funny gratuitous detail, but of course it’s a fuckin clue, what would usually be a matchbook, a thing to send Axel to California seeking revenge on the cop killer who must have gone to this theme park we all know of called Wonder World. So Axel goes to Beverly Hills to see Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, RUNNING SCARED), now proudly the Deputy Director of Operations for Joint Systems Interdepartmental Operational Command (an agency that has a big map on the wall and can cross into different L.A. jurisdictions).

Ronny Cox turned this one down, so his character is not mentioned. John Ashton was not available, so Taggart is said to have retired. It didn’t occur to me that he was in the script and just rewritten as Rosewood’s new partner John Flint (Hector Elizondo, Fish Police), so I assumed Flint would turn out to be corrupt. Kinda nice that he’s just a goof. Otherwise though it goes in every direction expected – for example, Flint tries to help by sending Axel to his old friend who’s head of security at Wonder World, and of course when he sees him it’s the killer, DeWald.

So big stretches of the movie take place at this thematically inconsistent theme park, which in matte shots has a big castle in the middle like Disneyland. Their mascot is a blue elephant called Okey Dokey, who has a certain dance he does. Their biggest attraction is Alien Attack, which is recognizable as the Earthquake ride from Universal Studios (a gas truck slides toward the tram, there’s a flood) but with a robotic Cylon from Battlestar Galactica shooting lasers around. There’s also a dark ride called Land of the Dinosaurs with animatronic wooly mammoths and stuff. Crazily, the park has its own jingle written by Robert and Richard Sherman, the legendary siblings behind a bunch of songs for the actual Disneyland, as well MARY POPPINS, THE ARISTOCATS, etc. They also have a cameo. (Richard just died on Friday. R.I.P.)

This might be just my own hangup, but I find it annoying for a movie like this to have a fictional theme park that’s obviously a stand-in for Disneyland but based on various generic cartoon pigs and elephants and stuff that you can’t imagine actually being this popular. Walley World works in the comedic world of VACATION, but BEVERLY HILLS COP ostensibly took place in reality, and it just seems like such Saturday morning cartoon bullshit to see all these bootleg retro animation characters crammed together with a selection of unrelated carnival rides. It’s not supposed to be some shoddy knock off, it’s supposed to be a hugely popular destination. Everybody, even Axel, is worshipful of Wonder World’s lovable old man creator “Uncle Dave” Thornton (Alan Young, voice of Scrooge McDuck), who teams up with Axel to uncover the plot (until DeWald shoots him with Axel’s gun).

Part III stretches reality in another way too – they get into a little bit of near future satire type stuff, like the Beverly Hills Police Department forcing guests to talk to an automated system with an endless menu (one of the jokes is that it’s available in Farsi – who would speak Farsi? What a crazy language!), and especially the commercial for a sci-fi-looking assault rifle called the Annihilator 2000, designed for “the upper income urban survivalist.” Bronson Pinchot’s breakout character Serge has another big scene (one of the funnier parts just because of his performance) and the strange premise is that he now sells arms instead of clothes. This kind of stuff seems odd for the series, and I’m not sure if it’s a Landis addition or if de Souza was ramping up for JUDGE DREDD.

Really the only thing I remembered about the movie (maybe from seeing it, maybe from ads) was that there was a scene involving a Great America ride called Sky Whirl. In the movie they renamed it The Spider, and back in the day my family called it “the Tweety cages” because we never remembered the actual name and the place had Looney Tunes characters as the mascots. It’s these big arms that each raise up and spins around a circle of these birdcage shaped things you sit in. In the movie, security wants Axel off of the ride so they yank on some levers, causing all the machinery to fail and the whole ride to start falling apart. Pure negligence, and of course there’s zero accountability for it.

Axel sees a cage that has flipped open, and two small children are about to fall to their death, and also it turns out he must be some kind of circus acrobat or parkour expert, because he begins to leap from cage to cage and somehow finds a rope and holds on with one hand and gets them safely to the ground just before the cage falls. It’s a long, complicated sequence that makes no sense, and makes the most ludicrous DIE HARD sequel moments seem like gritty realism by comparison. But there are a bunch of shots that are clearly stunt men hanging off of the actual Sky Whirl and that’s kind of mindblowing to see.

I’m not really sure if all the security guys are in on (spoiler if you didn’t figure it out I guess) DeWald’s counterfeiting scheme, but that would explain why they’re so over-the-top in their methods. In other ways they’re lax – Axel is able to just walk into an employees only door, down through a tunnel and into backstage ride control rooms without anybody paying any attention to him. That’s how he meets Janice Perkins (Theresa Randle, JUNGLE FEVER, CB4, George Clinton’s “Last Dance” video), a park employee who helps Axel and looks at him admiringly without ever technically becoming a love interest until the last scene.

There are various contrived shenanigans – including a part where Axel is surrounded by security in crowded Wonder World and fires a couple shots into the air before putting his gun down!? – leading up to a finale where the bad guys chase Axel through the rides. It made me think about Richard Stark’s Slayground, where Parker has to sneak around an off-season theme park killing his pursuers one by one. Sure enough I read that de Souza was originally hired to write it as “DIE HARD in a theme park.” But after THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMEN flopped they lowered the budget and couldn’t afford to include some of the rides he made up for it.

At the end Uncle Dave survives and announces that he has created a new cartoon character called Axel Fox, in honor of Axel. It is legitimately cool to know what inspired such an iconic character, I was not aware of that background and it adds so much more depth to his funny cartoons. What a wonderful character, Axel Fox. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love that little guy.

Landis has claimed he didn’t like the script but expected Murphy to improvise and make it funny, only to find that Murphy wanted to take the character more seriously now. I didn’t notice him not trying to be funny, I just didn’t think he was succeeding as much. Landis does put his fingerprints on the movie in the form of his trademark director cameos: Arthur Hiller, Ray Harryhausen, George Lucas as “Disappointed Man” (Axel cuts in front of him for the last seat on The Spider, then it gets destroyed, so poor George never gets to go on it).

That’s the funniest one, but the one that really surprised me was John BOYZ N THE HOOD Singleton as a fireman who tells Flint that “some fool named Axel Foley” shot Uncle Dave. In retrospect it makes sense, because he’d directed Eddie in the “Remember the Time” video a few years earlier. Anyway, it’s funny, because I mentioned him in my reviews of Matty Rich’s THE INKWELL and Spike Lee’s CROOKLYN, but I didn’t realize he had a summer of ’94 movie of his own.

Another “yep, it’s a John Landis movie” touch is that the Reverend Al Green plays the reverend at the Inspector’s funeral, singing “Amazing Grace.” And it seems like the act of someone with good taste in music to hire Nile Rodgers (ALPHABET CITY) to do the score. Unfortunately, instead of any of the styles he’s associated with he does a more traditional orchestral score that seems really overblown for this. Reworking the synth-based “Axel F. Theme” in that style seems like one of those things that you try and then when you hear what it sounds like you realize “oh, no, we can’t do that, that’s actually offensive to listen to,” but this particular production does not respect those sorts of boundaries.

At least it’s not as bad as when they do it as wacky cartoon music while Axel is walking around in the Okey Dokey costume. (Yes, of course that’s something that happens. And he gets in a fight with a little kid whose grandma is played by Helen Martin (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, DEATH WISH, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, A RAGE IN HARLEM, DOC HOLLYWOOD, HOUSE PARTY 2).

Song-wise the soundtrack is okay I guess. There’s a Tony! Toni! Toné! song, Chante Moore, Patti LaBelle, INXS for the non-R&B fans. When Axel gets ahold of the aforementioned Annihilator 2000 it has a built-in radio that starts playing an Eazy-E song called “Luv 4 Dem Gangsta’z.”

Unfortunately the Pointer Sisters, who did “The Neutron Dance” for part I and “Be There” for part II, did not return. I assume they retired and moved to Phoenix like Taggart.

The other BEVERLY HILLS COPs were produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, but they left their deal with Paramount in part because they wanted a bigger budget for this one. At first they were replaced by the other (in my view better) big name spectacle producer of the era, Joel Silver, but he also quit over budget issues. So it became less of an action movie under producer Mace Neufeld (THE OMEN, THE FUNHOUSE). It’s funny that Landis directed some of the most over-the-top car chase mayhem ever for his soul musical THE BLUES BROTHERS, and then when he did an actual cop movie there was no way to live up to it! That speaks both to the untouchability of the former and the chintziness of the latter. For the record, though, the budget of BEVERLY HILLS COP III is more than THE BLUES BROTHERS, BEVERLY HILLS COP and BEVERLY HILLS COP II combined.

I guess the nicest thing I can say about this one that I haven’t already is that it’s still kinda funny to see Axel see things he thinks are crazy and just have a big smile on his face. The standard protocol is to make some wiseass remark to belittle somebody like that, but he just chooses to keep it to himself and emanate joy. There’s some residual sense of what made the character funny. But not enough.

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29 Responses to “Beverly Hills Cop III”

  1. Okay, I have to admit that the BHC series is one that I know I should like, but never really did. I don’t hate them, but whenever I try to check them out every few years, there are bits and pieces that I enjoy, but as a whole they all fall flat to me. (And yet, just like with BAD BOYS, another series that I don’t really care for, I will watch every sequel as soon as I get the chance.)

    That said…this one here is the only one as of today that I actually quite like. It’s not good good, but I think it is the least boring. And you have to admit, as dumb as “Axel has to save not-Walt Disney from counterfeiters who hijacked his amusement part” is for a BHC sequel, it is a pretty original plot for an action movie. Or any movie!

    And there is this thought in my head of hardcore BHC fans going to the theatre on opening day and are downright horrified when the maybe biggest action setpiece is “Axel has to safe two kids from an amusement park ride”.

  2. Die Hard in a theme park is such an awesome idea how come nobody’s ever done it? That was the Entourage joke about Matterhorn. Even that Parker story sounds cinematic.

    But that rescue sequence just looks so fake in the closeups (blue screen probably) and doesn’t cut together with the real stunts, and as Vern pointed out just doesn’t make sense.

    I always thought Metro was a better Beverly Hills Cop sequel than the actual ones. But it was San Francisco so I guess they couldn’t use it.

  3. That Parker story IS cinematic. Too bad the actual cinematic-type movie of the films of cinema they made out of it in the early 80s isn’t cinematic at all. It could have been “DIE HARD in an amusement park” before DIE HARD even existed, but instead the filmmakers decided to invent 90 minutes of completely unnecessary generic angsty backstory before it even gets to the amusement park, art which point it squeezes a half-assed condensation of the entire book’s plot into the last ten minutes. A real waste of some excellent source material. John Carpenter could have made a masterpiece out of it.

    As for BHIII, I don’t remember the rescue sequence being that bad. In fact, I remember it as being the highlight of the movie. It’s sad that the highlight of a BEVERLY HILLS COP movie is a sequence that could have been in any studio action film of the 90s, and not the kind of scene that could only he in a BEVERLY HILLS COP movie, but that’s just how it is.

  4. Conceptually, this one’s pretty weird. Not bad by “Die Hard sequel” standards, where we just like a character and want to see him have more adventures, but isn’t the point of Beverly Hills Cop to take a streetwise, working-class joe and contrast him with a pretentious and elitist setting? Well, what could be more bourgeois than Disneyland? In real life, what would Axel Foley find ridiculous about Space Mountain? He’d probably have a good time taking his kids there.

  5. I was not really in the age where I would actually pay attention to stuff like that, but thinking about it I only now realized what a colossal disappointment this movie must have been. Murphy’s star was already sinking by then, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was the biggest name at the box office, so I guess the audience had still a lot of goodwill for him. Then he returned to his signature role for the first time in seven years. AND he brought the director of TRADING PLACES and COMING TO AMERICA with him. How could this fail? This should’ve been the biggest hit of the summer and catapult Murphy back on top!

    Well, obviously that didn’t work out for several reasons.

  6. That SLAYGROUND movie is something else. Entire sequences seem to be gone. Plot lines run disconnected from anything else in the film and are just left dangling. What a waste of a great book.

    The last and final time I watched BEVERLY HIILS COP III, the Spider ride scene amazed me. I were Landis, the last thing on Earth I’d do is shoot a lengthy action sequence about two small kids in danger and make cinema audiences sit and watch it and think about real-life parallels.

  7. Oh shit, I’m glad that didn’t occur to me while watching it.

  8. I’ve only watched the first Beverly Hills Cop so man there is nothing on earth that prepared me to scroll down and see him holding that fucking sci-fi aliens chain gun thing

  9. Yeah, I know everyone in the world essentially says this film is the worst of the franchise and all that jazz, and the rancor after it came out was unjustly deafening.

    But maybe because I was 13 when it came out, and it played incessantly on HBO and was the first film of the series that I saw, but I’ll always have a soft spot for this film. I’ve felt like a pariah for 30 years, wearing my love of “Beverly Hills Cop III” on my sleeve. Like I’ve said, maybe it’s because it was the first one I saw, on HBO back in the day, but Timothy Carhart just plays such a great slimy villain and Eddie is terrific as always. It’s a fun movie! People were crazy in 1994 shit talking this movie, and they’re crazy now when they do the same.

    Hell, it even has Alan Young, as Uncle Dave, for crying out loud!

  10. I re-watched all three BHCs not long ago, and was surprised that I liked the third one better now than I did in the 90s. Perhaps because this time I knew that Murphy wanted to tone down the humor. The second one had perhaps too much comedy, but Landis is not a great action director…Still wonder if Landis thinks anyone besides us movie geeks are going to recognize Barbet Schroeder, Ray Harryhausen, Arthur Hiller and John Singleton. George Lucas I get, but the others..?

  11. I recognized Joe Dante.
    It’s most likely just John Landis’ equivalent of an indie-filmmaker giving his friends and family walk on parts.

  12. I have seen this, I know. I remember Hector Elizondo, who I am always pleased to see, and Serge as a gun dealer. John Saxon is in it too, right? Otherwise, I have nothing. It can’t be that I hated it, as that would give me more to cling to. I still hold a grudge against THE GOLDEN CHILD.

    Is it possible that the automated system that speaks Farsi is a meta joke, as Landis had played a mute Iranian in INTO THE NIGHT? I think I’m stretching here; it seems a bit subtle for Landis.

  13. Like many here, the BHC franchise is not my favorite one… I just enjoy them for what it is, but not the movies I watched over and over. I have a soft spot for the second one – but that is because I tend to give a pass to anything Tony Scott did, I am a sucker for the Tony Scott/Bruckenheimer films…
    BHC3 is okay – but definitely a missed opportunity to do a cool “Die Hard in an amusement park” film… hopefully someone will pick up that idea again soon and take full advantage of the amusement park setting for it.
    Having said that – there is a new BHC movie coming up on Netflix in June and I am sure I will watch it. From the look of it on the trailer, it seems they went big on action sequences… curious to see how it will balance the comedy this time.

  14. The only thing I remembered from this was that George Lucas appeared in it for a while. I didn’t even know that it was directed by the triple killer, but it makes sense, it explains the quality. At least he didn’t (?) put it any of his jokes about “shredded kids” in it, the “jokes” that he kept telling, even in public, after bribing out his freedom in the trial: “You know, shredded kids always work wonders to scare up the audience, ha, ha!”

  15. You could spray a thick Nostalgia mist on me, and this clunker STILL wouldn’t improve on re-watch. I got the 3-film box set years ago, and no prizes for guessing which disc rarely leaves the case.

    “Um, yeah, this is pretty bad though. Starts out semi-interesting, gets very tedious.”

    Vern needn’t have written a single word more (although I have no complaints that he did) and that would have been a perfect encapsulation of this dud, where the quality dip from Part 2 to this turd is so steep it damn near causes a nosebleed. Truly, the ROBOCOP 3 of the franchise.

  16. And…NO…this one doesn’t suddenly become watchable just because Murphy subsequently took a squat and shat out PLUTO NASH & NORBIT on an unsuspecting public.

  17. Eddie Murphy was basically my Jesus as a child, based largely on the first two/only BEVERLY HILLS COPs, 48 HRS, RAW/DELIRIOUS, and THE GOLDEN CHILD. But by 1994, I could tell that the shine was off. Teenagers have an innate sense of these things, and I somehow knew that Eddie days were done. Two years later, he had full-on Klumped himself into oblivion, and I’ve never paid attention to a single thing he’s done since. But we’ll always have that decade or so in between 48 HRS and ANOTHER 48 HRS. Nothing can take that away.

  18. to be fair as far as budget goes if you adjust for inflation blues brothers would only cost 43.5m more than BHC3 in todays dollars, which although still quite a bit more its not quite as egregious, especially considering that the BHC series ballooning budgets (basically doubling with each sequel) were likely due to murphy commanding a higher salary each time as opposed to say, the john wick franchise where the increasing budgets of the sequels upped the ante significantly each time… although i guess its also not really fair to compare a straight up action series to an action/comedy series where it could be argued that setpieces can take a back seat to humor and character moments and still be a good product, but BH3 pretty much drops the ball on that front too so I guess my whole argument is pretty irrelevant. sorry to anyone who read it!

  19. It cannot be overstated how detrimental to the movie the score is. This is a definition of a Mickey Mouse score which, as usual, robs any suspense, humor and, often, momentum. The movie wouldn’t have been good with another score, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as tedious.

  20. grimgrinningchris

    June 2nd, 2024 at 7:43 am

    Franchise Fred

    Yeah that green screen is pretty jarring. Maybe the same green screen (and maybe the same window bars) as those couple shots in the fun house during ” You’re The One That I Want” in GREASE. If you’ve seen GREASE half as many times as I have then you’ll know the exact shots I mean and that they look uncannily like those shots you mention in this one.

  21. grimgrinningchris

    June 2nd, 2024 at 1:35 pm

    Ack. I had a long comment to Franchise Fred that never went up. I think I may have used the wrong email. Damn it.

    Well here goes again, Fred. I noticed that distracting bad green screen on a recent rewatch and it immediately brought to mind the also distractingly awkward green screen during the fun house in “You’re The One That I Want” in GREASE. Down the the barred windows and generic blue sky beyond them. If you’ve seen GREASE more than a couple of times, you’ll know the shots I’m referring to. They’re so similar it’s almost like Landis was bafflingly trying to recreate their almost charming phoniness in BHC3.

  22. But as a musical Grease doesn’t have to be realistic. A car flies at the end. Cop III was faking a daring rescue…

  23. Y’all forget that by then Blue Screen shots were still WAY more noticeable than today, where, if it’s done well, you often don’t even realize it wasn’t shot on location until you see the making of. Even the best Blue Screen FX of the 80s and early 90s had visible matte lines, very noticable differences in film stock or camera movements that simply didn’t add up between the actors and the background. It was just a limitation that they had to accept. Oddly enough, I can imagine that it was FORREST GUMP that made invisible blue and green screen shots possible.

  24. grimgrinningchris

    June 3rd, 2024 at 4:20 am

    I get both points. Just highlighting how crazy similar and specific the shots seem down to the bars (albeit bars in different contexts) on the windows and generic blue skies . Also that in both cases since ir WAS just a generic, unmoving background beyond the bars it seems like a painted backdrop would have looked better than the shoddy blue/greenscreen shots. When I’m more awake I’ll try to find links to both shots.

  25. grimgrinningchris

    June 3rd, 2024 at 5:50 am

    From GREASE. for about 10 seconds starting around 2:30

    From BHC3. Pretty much every shot inside the ride vehicles. https://youtu.be/vVVta20MbDo?si=5e1Em37ScZ4WJirU

    Also I had a nightmare about being stuck on this ride a night or two ago thanks to the rewatch and this conversation.

    Also Also. Pretty sure that dino and ice age ride was at Knotts Berry Farm. Which is interesting since apparently that’s where they originally wanted to film the exteriors but were denied because of issues with the script.

    Though I’ve never been to Great America, I instantly recognized it when I first saw the movie due to its fairly unique double decker carousel which I knew of from a promotional GA Dennis The Menace comic book I’d somehow gotten ahold of as a kid in the early 80s.

  26. Hmm Grim, I’m not so sure those are blue screen shots. Just look at the background of them, there are shadows on the walls in those close-ups. And they have the set right there, I think those looks weird because of the lighting…they zoomed in to get those tighter shots which I bet KILLED the exposure especially since they’re in the shade, so they had to blast some lights on them just for those shots…so it looks off. Too blurry to really tell though, but the shadow is a big giveaway.

  27. grimgrinningchris

    June 5th, 2024 at 5:19 pm

    Muh, well there is also the incongruance of in the side shots there are people in those windows and in the closeups there aren’t which just adds to how fake it looks- and yes, as pointed out before, it is a fantasy, but they don’t match up to anything else in the movie, even full on fantasy sequences like Greased Lightning and Beauty School Dropout (which You’re The One That I Want is not). I dunno, maybe I m crazy… the shots loo very very fake and very very similar to me.

  28. It almost looks like portions of a set, like they had to do pick ups later. Back then it would have been easier to just build that small portion of a set for a few shots than blue screen. The windows look covered with like wax paper or something so you can backlight them to simulate sun.

  29. grimgrinningchris

    June 6th, 2024 at 6:55 am

    Agreed there. And in both cases, the backgrounds seem TOO lit which adds to the weird, fakey look, which, in both cases (unless it was intentional) seems like it would have been so easy to avoid with simple backdrops and better lighting.

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