Okay, let me get this straight: Beverly Hills Cop is a movie about a massive police coverup of unconstitutional surveillance that led to a mass shooting … and that’s the HAPPY ending?
Maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” situations… and by “there” I mean the a movie theater in 1984. I was alive then, but too young to be brought to a movie about sex and violence; and over the intervening 30 years, an opportunity to see the film simply never presented itself.
But now? Now my eyes are open. I recently stumbled across the movie on Netflix and gave it a watch; and my reaction is: Holy God, why is this terrible tale of crooked cops a comedy, and why are the cops portrayed as good guys?
Here’s a quick plot synopsis:
Detroit, looking as post-apocalyptic as ever, is hope to Eddie Murphy the cop, and also some extremely 80s montage music. He’s responsible for a police sting that goes wrong because he hasn’t told anyone else at the police station that he’s doing it — a weird secret to keep from your co-workers — and triggers a chase that results in widespread destruction. (Apparently Detroit doesn’t mind if a movie trashes the whole city because it was kind of like that already.)
That’s followed by a standard rogue-cop “hand in your badge” scene without an actual badge handover, and also a theme song that I thought was just the music that comes pre-packaged with all Casio keyboards. It’s difficult to tell exactly what’s going on because the movie has no idea how to light black people.
Eventually, the old man from that one season of Community shows up and kills one of Eddie Murphy’s friends, so Eddie lies to his police-boss and says that he wants to take a vacation while in reality he’s going to go question some witnesses and search some property without a warrant, and several states over from his jurisdiction.
He encounters Balki from Perfect Strangers, doing a slightly different goofy accent, and then meets a head bad guy who is for some reason wearing a bathrobe with a necktie. The head bad guy is clearly doing something illegal and arranges for Eddie to be arrested, and so then he meets the Beverly Hills police department. They repeatedly encourage him not to engage in unconstitutional searches, but he eludes them. One one occasion, he disables a car by putting a banana in the tailpipe, which is not how cars work and would probably only have an effect if you pushed it so far in it came out the gas tank.
Later, Balki offers someone an espresso with lemon, which is disgusting.
After searching some private property under false pretenses, Eddie is able to convince some cops to lead a raid on a mansion. There’s a ton of gunfire and some people die. Ultimately, the police cover up the fact that all of the evidence was gathered without any kind of warrant, coordinating a lie that protects them all while incriminating everyone else. They will presumably need to repeat these lies in reams of paperwork and under oath in court.
The film concludes with the police using taxpayer money to buy themselves expensive hotel robes.
Okay, so… this is horrifying, right? It’s a comedy about the kind of rule-breaking that gets innocent people killed. The abuses of power depicted in this film are unfathomable, from the searches to the interrogation to the mass shooting.
I’m at a loss to imagine the fantasy that this movie fulfilled. Is it a dream of a police officer so devoted to justice that he is willing to abridge all constitutional protections to avenge his friend’s death? Maybe that was fun in the ’80s. But at this point, we’ve had so many real-life examples of police officers overstepping their authority that it’s just really really uncomfortable.