The third installment of the "Beverly Hills Cop" series boasts a return to form by Eddie Murphy and a breezy and witty first half. And though the film runs out of steam before the end, it should satisfy "B.H. Cop" fans, even if it doesn't provide a full reversal of Murphy's recent box office misfortunes.

The third installment of the “Beverly Hills Cop” series boasts a return to form by Eddie Murphy and a breezy and witty first half. And though the film runs out of steam before the end, it should satisfy “B.H. Cop” fans, even if it doesn’t provide a full reversal of Murphy’s recent box office misfortunes. Competition from two highly visible non-sequels, “Maverick” and “The Flintstones ,” will give “Cop III” a run for its money, perhaps blunting its ultimate gross potential.

The film gets off to a brisk start with a sting-gone-bad at a Detroit stolen-car chop shop. Director John Landis gets a mighty chuckle out of two overweight thieves mimicking a vintage Supremes tune and then quickly shifts moods with an efficient St. Valentine’s Day-style massacre and a chase in which Murphy drives a snazzy sports car that disintegrates piece by piece. Murphy’s trademark grin and lithe acrobatic skills dominate here. Thankfully, he’s left behind the air of indifference that permeated many of his recent efforts. When he lets go, which is not often enough here, he reminds us why he became a superstar.

The bad-guy trail inevitably leads to Southern California, where Murphy is reunited with an old Beverly Hills crony, Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), and a new cop buddy played by Hector Elizondo. The focus of the action is a theme park called

WonderWorld, on the order of the Disney and/or Universal parks (it’s actually a dressed-up Great America in Santa Clara, owned by Paramount Communications).

Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza has a lark lampooning the squeaky clean Americana atmosphere of these entertainments as well as those overwrought Universal crash-bam-boom thrill rides. There’s even a pseudo-Uncle Walt, here named Uncle Dave Thornton, played by Alan Young, best known as Mr. Ed’s straight man. Great in-joke is the park’s official theme, “The WonderWorld Song,” written by veteran Disney tunesmiths Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman.

Unfortunately, the villains are not as interesting as the milieu in which they thrive, which dissipates the tension. One of the better set pieces in the film occurs on a theme park ride gone haywire in which Murphy adeptly executes some of his own stunts. Another first-half highlight is thereturn of the impossibly effete Serge (Bronson Pinchot), who has moved from hawking cappuccino on Rodeo Drive to selling designer guns.

Pinchot is given free rein and is hilarious. There’s more action in his wrists than in some of the film’s climactic moments.

If the ending flattens out, it seems a calculated move to make the film more accessible and genial than its brutally cynical predecessor.

The restrained carnage could have been satisfying if it had been offset by a little more cleverness on the order of the sequence in which the Universal-style thrill ride is used to incapacitate several villainous goons.

A lot of top-flight craftsmanship went into the film, particularly Mac Ahlberg’s cinematography and Michael Seymour’s production design.

Aces too are the costumes by Catherine Adair with deserved special mention to Kelly Kimball, who executed the garb for the park animal characters.

The soundtrack is chock-a-block with good tunes, new and old.

And Nile Rodgers’ score effectively complements the action.

Beverly Hills Cop III

Production

A Paramount release of a Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme production in association with Eddie Murphy Prods. Produced by Neufeld and Rehme. Executive producer, Mark Lipsky. Co-producer, Leslie Belzberg. Directed by John Landis. Screenplay, Steven E. de Souza, based on characters created by Danilo Bach and Daniel Petrie Jr.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Mac Ahlberg; editor, Dale Beldin; music , Nile Rodgers; production design, Michael Seymour; art direction, Thomas P. Wilkins; set decoration, Marvin March; costume design, Catherine Adair; sound (Dolby), Joseph Geisinger; associate producer, Ray Murphy Jr.; assistant director, Arthur Anderson; casting, Jackie Burch. Reviewed at the National Theater, L.A., March 19, 1994. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 109 min.

With

Axel Foley - Eddie Murphy
Billy Rosewood - Judge Reinhold
Joe Flint - Hector Elizondo
Ellis DeWald - Timothy Carhart
Steve Fulbright - Stephen McHattie
Janice - Theresa Randle
Orris Sanderson - John Saxon
Uncle Dave Thornton - Alan Young
Serge - Bronson Pinchot
Minister - Al Green
Ticket Booth Girl - Tracy Lindsey
Todd - Gil Hill
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