Visiting the Prince Charles Cinema, just off London’s Leicester Square, is a little like being transported into a cinematic time machine. It’s not a glossy multiplex with a HD digital projector – it’s an old-school dinosaur with a doggedly traditional ethic. I was here to catch a double-bill of what could have been titled ‘Back When Eddie Murphy Was Funny’, a pairing of arguably the comedian’s two best films – 48 Hrs. (1982) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984).
48 Hrs. was Murphy’s debut film role, following his rise to fame in television sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. To my shame, I’ve never seen it, but it lives up to its reputation as the quintessential – and perhaps first – buddy cop movie, upon which all other buddy cop movies must be judged.
Murphy and Nick Nolte are a perfect odd couple: Nolte the hard-bitten, gruffly Eastwood-esque cop, Murphy the wise-cracking convict who must help him track down a cop killer. Their relationship follows a now predictable arc, from reluctant partners to firm friends, but does so with class and credibility.
It’s darkly funny without ever being silly (save for an endearingly ridiculous fight scene), but at its core is a solidly plotted crime thriller. The script is superb, dense with characterisation and eternally memorable dialogue; it has a richness which seems almost archaic compared to most of today’s weakly written action comedies.
I had seen Beverly Hills Cop – more than once, thanks to ITV2’s habit of scheduling it every ten minutes or so. But it holds up to repeat viewings. This is a much broader comedy than the first film, and the mention of ‘Eddie Murphy Productions’ in the opening credits suggests that the actor has stamped his mark a little firmer here. And it is all the better for it, his improvisational genius coming to the fore.
Here is a film of Eddie Murphy at his peak, showcasing his once considerable talents and deftly straddling serious action and fast-talking comedy. It’s entertaining from the start and never lets up. Everything works – the utterly classic Harold Faltermeyer theme, the terrific Tweedledum double act in Judge Reinhold and John Ashton, the fact that every scene screams “EIGHTIES! EIGHTIES! IT’S THE EIGHTIES!”
Both films are well-made entertainment which made me mourn Eddie Murphy’s career, the career he had before he simply made gross-out fat suit comedies or family friendly guff. The man used to be one of the most popular and bankable comic stars in Hollywood. Now his golden period is only remembered fondly, in retrospective double bills at cult indie cinemas. So it goes.