View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold in Beverly Hills Cop (Photo: Paramount)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BEVERLY HILLS COP: 3 MOVIE COLLECTION (1984-1994). The 1984 smash Beverly Hills Cop is already available on Blu-ray, but this set offers a newly remastered presentation as well as the Blu-ray debuts of 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III.
The third and best of the three comedies that transformed Saturday Night Live player Eddie Murphy into a major movie star (following 1982’s 48 HRS. and 1983’s Trading Places), the vastly entertaining Beverly Hills Cop remains noteworthy as the film that best makes use of his explosive comic instincts. He’s sensational as Detroit cop Axel Foley, sniffing out his best friend’s killers in swanky Beverly Hills with the help of by-the-book LA detectives Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) and the hindrance of stern police captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox). Bronson Pinchot jump-started his career with his inspired turn as an art gallery employee (TV’s Perfect Strangers followed two years later), and you can also catch Paul Reiser and Damon Wayans in small parts. Incidentally, the film was originally conceived as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, who (thankfully!) dropped out after many cast and crew members were already in place. Daniel Petrie Jr. and Danilo Bach earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, although so much of the dialogue was ad-libbed by Murphy that he probably deserved credit as well.
Even before Beverly Hills Cop was released, there was talk at Paramount about a sequel. Yet despite its robust box office, Beverly Hills Cop II proved to be a major disappointment. A sleazy, sexist and stupid follow-up, it finds Axel returning to sunny California to help Rosewood and Taggart find out who shot Captain Bogomil. Aside from Ashton’s Taggart, the characters here are nothing like their interpretations in the original film (Rosewood, for instance, is one step away from being a psychotic militia man), and the villains (played by Jürgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell and a wooden Brigitte Nielsen) are a particularly dull assemblage. Gilbert Gottfried has one funny scene as an excitable accountant, while Chris Rock earns his first screen credit in a tiny role.
While Beverly Hills Cop scored a whopping $234 million (it was the top-grossing movie of 1984, although Ghostbusters later passed it following a re-release) and Beverly Hills Cop II earned an impressive $153 million, the too-little-too-late Beverly Hills Cop III bombed with a $42 million haul. That’s hardly a surprise, given the wait between films and the fact that even Murphy admitted he was only doing it for a paycheck. While superior to BHCII, it’s merely a routine programmer in which the murder of Axel’s boss (Gil Hill, who, along with Murphy and Reinhold, appeared in all three films) has the intrepid cop following the clues to a California theme park. Look for George Lucas, Ray Harryhausen and Forrest J Ackerman among the countless cameos.
Blu-ray extras on Beverly Hills Cop include audio commentary by director Martin Brest; a making-of featurette; four behind-the-scenes shorts; two never-before-seen deleted scenes; and a piece on the music. There are no extras accompanying either of the sequels.
Beverly Hills Cop: ★★★½
Beverly Hills Cop II: ★½
Beverly Hills Cop III: ★★
BREWSTER’S MILLIONS (1985). To date, there have been approximately a dozen film adaptations of George Barr McCutcheon’s 1902 novel and subsequent 1906 Broadway play, the first arriving in 1914 and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and the latest arriving from China in 2018. The most recent American version is this 1985 endeavor that’s armed with a fine director in Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 HRS.), a fine second banana in John Candy, and a fine star in Richard Pryor. Yet the result is an alarmingly flat movie, a comedy that’s amiable rather than funny. As noted in my recent review of Blue Collar, Richard Pryor rarely landed roles that tapped into his mercurial talents, and this one’s no exception. Neutered by a part that tamps down on his edgy brand of humor, he’s likable but not much more as Montgomery Brewster, a minor-league baseball player who learns that he has a recently deceased uncle (Hume Cronyn) who was fabulously wealthy. As the only living relative, Brewster stands to inherit all the money if he can pass his uncle’s test: In order to collect the entire $300 million, he must spend (not give away) $30 million in 30 days without anybody knowing why. If he doesn’t spend that entire amount, he forfeits the whole inheritance. Brewster sets about getting rid of the money, but with everyone around him, including his best friend (Candy) and his accountant (Lonette McKee), thinking he’s either irresponsible or insane, he realizes the task is more difficult than expected. After a million brewskies, Brewster’s Millions is passable fare as a late-night viewing option, but those seeking genuine laughs would do well to look elsewhere.
This Blu-ray edition also contains the 1945 adaptation starring Dennis O’Keefe. Extras include an interview with co-screenwriter Herschel Weingrod and the theatrical trailer.
BRICK (2005). Taking a break from whiny fanboys after the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson just earned a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for the 10 Best-worthy Knives Out (go here for my complete Best & Worst of 2019). Yet his vibrant imagination has been on display since Brick, his startling debut feature. Johnson boldly decided to mash together a high school flick and a neo-noir, and the result is surprisingly good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Brendan, who learns that his former girlfriend (Emilie De Ravin) is in some kind of trouble. Shortly thereafter, he discovers her corpse, further sparking him to get to the bottom of the sordid shenanigans. As he tangles with a pothead named Dode (Noah Segan) and a bruiser named Tugger (Noah Fleiss), he realizes that all roads lead to a local drug czar known as The Pin (Lukas Haas, the little boy in Witness two decades removed). As befits any noir worth its salt, Brick contains an anti-hero, hard-boiled dialogue straight out of pulpy novels and classic films, ineffectual authority figures (here repped by an assistant vice principal played by Richard Roundtree), a trusty sidekick (Matt O’Leary as Brain), and a beauty (Nora Zehetner) who’s either a potential lover or a femme fatale or both.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Johnson, Zehetner, Segan, producer Ram Bergman, production designer Jodie Tillen and costume designer Michele Posch; deleted and extended scenes; a piece on the casting of the characters played by Zehetner and Segan); and the theatrical trailer.
THE FUGITIVE KIND (1960). An early misfire from the great Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon), this adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending (with Williams himself sharing scripting duties with Meade Roberts) finds Marlon Brando essaying the part of Val “Snakeskin” Xavier, a drifter whose arrival in a small Southern town causes consternation among the bigoted locals. Three of the town’s lonely women desire Val in one way or another: the enigmatic Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani), the unhappy wife of the cruel (and fatally ill) Jabe Torrance (Victor Jory); the kind Vee Talbot (Maureen Stapleton), the unhappy wife of the bullying Sheriff Jordan Talbot (R.G. Armstrong); and the sexually charged Carol Cutrere (Joanne Woodward), who isn’t married to anyone but is nevertheless unhappy due to the poor selection of men in this one-horse town. After dominating the 1950s with brilliant performances in exemplary films (leading to five Oscar nominations and one win over the course of the decade), Brando struggled throughout the 1960s by appearing primarily in eccentric or insignificant pictures — this stuffy and stiff-necked drama is in the latter camp, with an underwhelming Brando striking zero sparks with leading ladies Magnani and Woodward. Easily making off with top acting honors are supporting players Jory and Stapleton.
Blu-ray extras consist of a 2009 interview with Lumet; a piece on the various screen adaptations of Williams’ work; and 1958’s Three Plays by Tennessee Williams: Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry / The Last of My Solid Gold Watches / This Property Is Condemned, a TV production (part of the long-running anthology series Kraft Television Theatre) directed by Lumet and starring Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant.
GEMINI MAN (2019). Employing CGI to de-age actors has been all the rage as of late, but can we call a moratorium on the practice until filmmakers actually get it right? In the Win column, Samuel L. Jackson was convincingly made to look like a younger version of himself in Captain Marvel. In the Lose column, the list goes on and on and on. A Draw column should probably be added to incorporate Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a thriller starring Will Smith alongside a de-aged Will Smith. For much of the film, the CGI is effective enough to push across the notion that there’s a young Will Smith up there on the screen. At other times, the effects are laughable and unconvincing, stirring memories of the Gumby Hulk that Lee foisted upon us with his ill-fated 2003 superhero flick. The subpar effects in Gemini Man are particularly noticeable during the film’s final scenes — theoretically, the last place you would want the worst effects on full display. The screenplay is even more ragged than the visual effects. Smith stars as Henry Brogan, a government assassin who decides to retire after performing one final hit. But after Brogan is duped into killing a respected scientist rather than the usual scumbag, he elects to found out why. This leads him to shady operative Clay Varris (Clive Owen), who unleashes his secret weapon: “Junior,” a hitman who looks like a younger version of Brogan. Gemini Man is so concerned with moving from one generic action sequence to the next that it never truly takes time to explore the philosophical and moral complications of its premise. Smith adds shades of depth to Brogan, but Junior never comes into focus, always remaining more of a gimmick than an actual character. Gemini Man won’t leave viewers seeing double as much as it will leave them seeing red.
Blu-ray extras include various making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and an alternate opening.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019). The biggest flaw that affected 2014’s Maleficent is compounded in this reasonably agreeable sequel that again finds Angelina Jolie cast as Sleeping Beauty’s misunderstood villainess. Five years after the events of the first film, Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) is finally ready to pop the question to Aurora (Elle Fanning). As Aurora’s mother figure, Maleficent isn’t thrilled that this union will bring her into closer contact with dreaded humans, but she gamely goes along until Philip’s mom, the evil Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), sets into motion a plot that eventually leads to war between the humans and the fantastical creatures that live under Maleficent’s protection. In the ’14 original, Jolie proved to be such a captivating presence that the film lost much of its energy when the action shifted to other characters. Here, she’s shunted off to the sidelines with even greater frequency, which turns out to be a miscalculation since her proxies are generally the boring royals or the more annoying of the woodland critters. Also detrimental is the decision to add a clumsy backstory regarding her origins — granted, it’s not nearly as daft as Highlander II: The Quickening attempting to turn the Immortals into extra-terrestrial beings, but it’s almost as unnecessary. Still, director Joachim Rønning does an acceptable job of orchestrating the robust action interludes, and Sam Riley again scores in the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s right-hand crow-cum-man. The film recently nabbed one Academy Award nomination (Best Makeup and Hairstyling) — come to think of it, that’s the exact number that should have been given to the shallow and self-satisfied Joker (reviewed here last week).
Blu-ray extras include making-of featurettes on the visual effects; extended scenes; and outtakes.