Beverly Hills Cop - Eddie Murphy's dangerous seduction

Beverly Hills Cop rates as one of my all-time favorite movies. In theory, I might would judge it a notch or two down the food chain of great movies. However, in practice I have owned this movie in multiple formats, and have watched it more times on purpose than any but maybe a couple of other movies ever.

Eddie Murphy just burns up the screen. He's so funny, and so purely charismatic here as to defy adequate description.

Axel Foley amuses me so much indeed that it is only after 20 years and probably 100 viewings that I've become conscious of some very dangerous authoritarian underpinnings of the show.

Axel Foley represents a greater danger to our freedom than any of the usual movie suspects that civil liberties groups like to talk about. Dirty Harry Callahan might push the envelope a little, but he's intending on playing pretty much by the rules.

Even The Shield presents police abuses in a careful box with a flashing neon sign saying 'Look, the cops are breaking the law!' They carefully reflect a mix of motivations to these abuses, from the more excusable to the purely self-interested. They put a frame around these actions, and invite open public discussion on right and wrong and acceptable police procedures.

Axel Foley, however, isn't interested in any of that, nor would it likely occur to anyone watching the movie to see anything really questionable in his tactics. He's just doing whatever he thinks he needs to do to get what he needs to get, and doesn't give it a second thought. "Come on guys. I know how we can get around that" he says to a Beverly Hills cop protesting that they need a search warrant to do what Axel wants them to do. After all, he's investigating the murder of a friend. Axel, though not having a masters in criminal justice has an intuitive sense of how to solve a crime

The biggest point of the movie is (gently) mocking the Beverly Hills Police for being rigid, and by the book. What they're mocking is PRECISELY the careful respect for the Bill of Rights and proper police procedure displayed by the Beverly Hill cops. Apparently the constitution is just for stick-in-the-mud old white fuddy-duddies. The Beverly Hills cops seems more interested in strategic public relations than the idea of solving crimes.

Whereas when young, persuadable officer Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold's greatest role) objects to Axel's brash plan, Foley gives his most specific justification. "You guys act like you're all a bunch of robots. This case is very personal to me." Just like that, the constitution and all those legal procedures become just so much red tape in the away of Axel's important personal mission for Justice.

The dangerously seductive element comes from Foley's basic anti-authoritarian personality. Much of the humor comes from his implicit ideas about the illusionary nature of authority. Just start barking like an authority figure, and watch people slip into their pre-programmed submission response.

For example, my favorite scene is the bonded warehouse. He flashes a Detroit police badge and claims to be a federal inspector ready to shut them down, totally bluffing and bullying them into highly improper behavior based totally on the warehouse employees' (to us) obviously foolish fear and willingness to appease authority.

It's not like Axel is some stuffy authority figure, or powerful white politician. He's just a young black guy, a reformed street punk trying to do good. He's funny. He's young. He's hip.

The blinding part is that Axel Foley completely does not think of himself as an authority figure. It's not like he's The Man. He doesn't think of himself that way, so neither do we.

Thing is though, AXEL FOLEY IS A C-O-P. He's got a badge and a gun, and is part of the government.

Think through the resolution of the storyline, where Axel's philosophy fully plays out at Maitland's compound. They've just crashed in and killed the owner, a dozen henchmen and done a million dollars worth of damage. Finally, some of the Beverly Hills cops accept Axel's slippery philosophy. To save their bacon, the formerly by-the-book Lt. Bogomil concocts a huge bald-faced lie wholecloth, as Axel looks on admiringly. He couldn't have conjured up a bigger, bolder line of BS himself.

If this had been John Ashcroft doing this, rather than a cool guy under the tutelage of a hip young black SNL alumni, how would it be taken?

Do you really want your local cops acting like Axel Foley, or would you rather have some law abiding sticks in the mud like the Beverly Hills police?  DISCUSS






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