'Cop III' brought down by hail of bullets

May 25, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Until it turns to the heavy guns, "Beverly Hills Cop III" does a nice job as light entertainment.

It returns to the screen the Eddie Murphy we learned to love on "Saturday Night Live" 15 years back, and then in a number of movie hits, including two as the street-smart Detroit detective Axel Foley: brash, smart, funny, hip, devilish, both charismatic and subtly subversive at once. Murphy, his career shaky after a ** series of bombs, seems to be enjoying himself immensely and is the film's most amusing component, as well as its raison d'etre.

And the screenwriters come up with a sliver of an idea, which is to play Foley's brand of savvy off a rigid, socially sacrosanct, nearly fascistic but relentlessly beloved institution called WonderWorld, which is Disney World behind the thinnest patina of lawsuit-deflecting disguise.

Yes, but . . . all those guns? The new director (each of the "Beverly Hills Cops" has had a different director) is John Landis, of whom it is always asked not, "Sir, what is your world view?" but, "How the hell do you still get work?" He makes bad movies, really bad ones: "Oscar," "Innocent Blood," "The Three Amigos," "Trading Places." OK, once he got lucky: "National Lampoon's Animal House." He is not the most refined of artists. His code is the same as Seal Team Six's: when in doubt, pull out a MAC-10 and start blasting away.

The movie is like an advertisement for the 19 recently banned assault weapons, and much of the comic energy it has acquired at the halfway point is squandered in a pointlessly violent finale that watches as WonderWorld is snipped, nipped, chipped and punctured until it comes to resemble a doily.

And it's the worst kind of movie violence: not the scary, tragic, depressing violence of reality, nor the beautifully filmed violence of transcendence that becomes some kind of lyric poetry. Rather, Landis offers banal, poorly staged, desperate business where dozens of nasty but anonymous extras hit the dirt with blood spurting out of their chests. And after it's over, the heroes, who tend to collect grazing wounds, make little quips about it. Then it's Miller time.

Still, now and then, the movie bumbles into something amusing in its vision of this theme park (actually Paramount's Great Adventure Park in Santa Clara, Calif.), particularly the contrast between the cutesy world of cartoon characters up top and the network of sleek industrial tunnels underneath.

And when Murphy, fleeing from bad guys, bursts out a cute little door into one of the kind of mindlessly cheery musical numbers that explode like outbreaks of the flu in theme parks, he can't resist hamming it up with the cartoon characters, a very funny bit of business.

What's gotten Foley to L.A. -- but not, strictly speaking, Beverly Hills -- in the first place is the murder of his boss, Lieutenant Todd (Gil Hill) in the middle of a routine bust back in Detroit.

The bust turns into a massacre when the cops arrive to discover that a crew of ultra-efficient gunmen was already on the scene. The explicit clue that leads Foley to WonderWorld is an absurdity, and but one indication of the movie's refusal to treat genre conventions seriously. In fact, the ultimate McGuffin in the piece -- a sophisticated counterfeiting ring -- has nothing to do with WonderWorld and has no organic reason for being hidden there.

At any rate, Foley's idea of "undercover investigating" seems largely to consist of making a nuisance of himself, which is the movie's one pleasure. Nobody makes a nuisance of himself more artfully than Eddie Murphy, and nobody can deconstruct a pompous ceremony more rapidly. But none of the other characters are really there.

Hector Elizondo, a distinguished actor, has been brought in to replace the gruff John Ashton, but to almost no effect. Judge nTC Reinhold is as airy a presence as ever. Even Bronson Pinchot has been recycled in one scene, now as a purveyor of high-tech firearms of the sort that have been illegal in California for some time now.

The only actor who really registers, however, is Timothy Carhart, as the smug and self-satisfied bad guy, oozing unctuousness and aplomb from every pore. He seems to leave a Vaseline smear on the lens after every scene. He has a great future as a mousse spokesman on TV.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Beverly Hills Cop III"

Starring Eddie Murphy

Directed by John Landis

Released by Paramount

R-rated

... **

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