Beverly Hills Love Letter to Detroit

From Beverly Hills Cop II, directed by Tony Scott and starring Eddie Murphy:

Interesting how this scene is shot like a car commercial. Like his brother, Ridley, Tony Scott was every bit an adman, so his approach to filmmaking is to make everything sleek, sexy, sophisticated, probably some other nice-sounding ‘s’ words. As a result, we get Murphy putting on a three-piece before getting into a Ferrari GTS. It pops against the industrial, blue collar Detroit setting–Ford plants, smokestacks, diners, coupes and sedans. The use of “Shakedown,” performed by Detroit native Bob Seger (composed by Harold Faltermeyer and Keith Forsey, who also wrote the movie’s score), lends the scene a peculiarly 80’s, American form of commercialism; one built on twangy vocals, cock rock guitar solos, and working-class factory jobs. The car chase camera angles make this scene a triumph of form and function (by comparison, when Seger lent his song “Like a Rock” to an actual Chevy commercial, the result was embarrassing).

Scott also deliberately highlights two of the Big Three, Ford and Chrysler, during this scene, despite the centerpiece being an Italian model, as if acknowledging the importance Detroit played in making the automobile a global phenomena.

(As a side note: I’m curious if Scott was aware of the work of European inventors and engineers who developed the components and structure upon which the modern car ultimately derived).

Another curious effect is the way Scott connects the cities of Detroit and Beverly Hills. As seen in the first two Beverly Hills Cop movies, the California locale is dotted with luxurious sports cars and limos. All made possible by lower-to-lower-middle-class workers who would never get a chance to drive such things. The extravagance is both amusing and delightful to Murphy’s glib street cop Axel Foley (is there a more Detroit name?), who enjoys exploiting the lifestyle which before the first movie was out of his reach. In today’s anti-‘entitlement’ climate where Detroit’s bankruptcy is treated as a punchline (rather than an example of Governor Rick Snyder’s corruption), Hollywood would likely paint Foley as a parasite. Here, he’s a picaresque sticking it to the Man. Both flicks make a point of showing off Foley’s intellect, charm, and deviousness in dealing with West Coast bureaucrats and upper-class crooks (as if he’s saying “You guys may be rich, but we’re cool”): Beverly Hills Cop goes further, insinuating Coastal corruption leads to tragic consequences in Detroit, while II is all about Foley helping his friends (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox) solve crime. In both cases, though, the clash of class is palpable, and Scott stirs it up right at the beginning of his sequel. Where a lesser director would’ve made such a commercial approach crass, this mixture of West Coast exposure and Midwest lifestyle is funny and smart.


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