Experience has taught that few things in entertainment are more dissatisfying than a movie with an identity crisis. A comedy, ‘buddy cop’ actioner, and crime thriller all in one, Beverly Hills Cop delivers moderately in each of these areas but never fully realizes its potential in this mishmash of genres. Its cast certainly displays exceptional charm and talent: Eddie Murphy exerts a commanding, on-screen presence as the fast-talking, Detroit-based cop Axel Foley, who takes “a vacation” to Bevery Hills in order to solve the case of his childhood pal Mikey’s murder, Judge Reinhold and John Ashton provide a rare dose of the film’s humor as the uber-formal, by-the-book, often bumbling “supercops” with whom our hero teams up, Lisa Eilbacher is fine as Axel’s old friend Jenny, who’s unfortunately nothing more than a friend, and Steven Berkoff gives a surprisingly captivating performance as the scrumptiously vile, drug-smuggling antagonist. Their characters are fairly well developed and likeable, but they’re left floundering with the burden of a script that’s neither especially funny nor action-packed, too serious to qualify itself as a comedy and too slim to be designated as compelling drama. Although the movie sparingly touches on the dynamic between literal and spiritual interpretations of the law in the context of obtaining arrest warrants for criminals who pose an imminent threat, the commentary isn’t pressed nearly enough to make it one of the film’s central assets. The only truly outstanding attribute of this 80s title happens to be its soundtrack, which combines technopop lyrics and a really catchy instrumental theme for an unexpectedly appealing sound. Beverly Hills Cop isn’t a bad movie by any means, but the degree to which one will enjoy it largely depends on how willing one is to give up the more conventional aspects of a given genre, be they consistent humor, action, or drama, for some well-written, animated, and memorable characters.
Grade rating: B-
Grade rating: B+
The storytelling might irk some viewers who are accustomed to receiving an answer for every question raised by the narrative, but the movie’s writers, Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron, wisely recognize that a completely coherent and transparent plot often detracts from an intriguing one. The crux of this Bourne is not the reasons that compel the chase in the first place, but the thrill of the chase itself; just as Steven Spielberg’s first professional project Duel managed to tell a gripping story without offering a clear and logical explanation for the film’s central conflict, so too does The Bourne Identity focus on conveying an ambiguous yet compelling fight for survival, creating in this manner an ingenious effect whereby the audience’s confusion, tension, and energy equal that of the film’s main characters. On another note, if an analytical spectator looks underneath the flashy action that largely defines the movie’s tone, he can extract subdued but provocative themes of identity and self-determination that tie somewhat into Christian debate over Free Will and Predestination. As Bourne gains ever more awareness concerning his ever darker past, he wrestles with the life that he will continue to lead, wondering whether he even has a choice as to his destined profession. Is he obligated to follow the record he has thus far established, the path of a hired gun who wallows in depravity and lawlessness, or does he have the opportunity to start anew of his own initiative and walk a different course? The movie seemingly projects the latter answer to his predicament, making it distinctly Arminian and anti-Calvinist in a metaphorical sense, but perhaps I’m overthinking the whole thing. Contrary to what the many ChristianMingle ads playing during the TV presentation might suggest, this isn’t a religious movie.
As I’ve already commented, the technical aspects of Bourne are really strong, with cinematography, stunts, music, and performances that tower above anything in similar action movies. Matt Damon brilliantly exudes Bourne’s tact, determination, and sometimes gentlemanly care, while Franka Potente believably portrays a woman who’s first repelled by then drawn to danger after meeting a strange amnesiac whose mass of contradictions only makes him more dashing. One needn’t ponder why Marie should fall for a man so brutal to his foes and chivalrous to his friends; to quote the eminent Phil Robertson, Jason Bourne is the ultimate redneck, kind of like the son you never had.
Grade rating: B+