Beverly Hills Cop is essentially a tale of two cities. Director Martin Brest throws Detroit Detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) into cushy Beverly Hills, and in turn pits the culture of the two cities against each other. Right away the film opens on Detroit, a city featured in many cop films, including the one I did my previous post on: Robocop. Like Robocop, this film portrays Detroit as a dirty city covered with graffiti, with poor/blue collar citizens hanging out in the streets. But Brest makes this Detroit seem a lot friendlier than the one Paul Verhoeven shows in Robocop. The citizens, both children and adults, are socializing with their friends and appear to be having fun. This set up during the credit sequence is necessary, as Beverly Hills Cop is a comedy first and an action film second; Brest wanted to create a fun and lighthearted atmosphere.
The audience is introduced to Axel as soon as the opening credit sequence is over, though he is not revealed to be a cop until after he botches an (unauthorized) undercover job and is subsequently chewed out by his boss. This introduction shows the type of character Axel is, and his cunning, not-by-the-book way of policing holds up after he takes his “vacation” to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his best friend.
Axel’s arrival in Beverly Hills mirrors the opening credits, and shows that Axel is a fish out of water. Driving into the city he is followed by a classic car, with palm trees lining the road. The buildings are gorgeous and gated, the stores are as ritzy as can be, and all of the cars put his “crappy blue Chevy Nova” to shame. The more obvious comparison comes when he meets the Beverly Hills police. Although he is a detective, Axel dresses very blue collar; the entire film he is wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Conversely all of the upper level Beverly Hills cops are stuffy guys in suits.
In the end though it’s Axel’s way of policing that saves the day. Detectives Taggart and Rosewood follow Axel’s lead into an enemy’s house without a search warrant, and even their Lieutenant lies to the Chief about what happened. This all comes after an hour and a half of the Beverly Hills cops telling Axel that they do things by the book, and do not lie about what transpires on cases. Their proper way of policing truthfully makes them look like fools; while being shot at Rosewood actually stands up with his badge in the air and proclaims, “POLICE! YOU’RE ALL UNDER ARREST!” The result though is deeper than telling the audience that the backdoor way of doing things trumps doing things the right way. Axel shows the Beverly Hills cops friendship. He shows them that being cops makes them brothers, and that they are allowed to bend the rules because it’s how they look out for one another.
The film also provides us with a legendary theme song, that 20+ years laters kids will recognize as the song from Family Guy that Peter dances to when he goes back in time…