The Eddie Murphy starrer “Beverly Hills Cop III,” its budget spiralling over the $ 60 million mark, was postponed yesterday for at least eight weeks.

Paramount Pictures had set production of “Cop III” to start on Feb. 1, in order to hit a desired Aug. 7 release date. The studio had previously allotted $ 55 million for the project–the amount the filmmakers ostensibly will shoot for when the cameras roll later in 1993.

The tight schedule would have forced producers Bob Rehme and Mace Neufeld and director John Landis to turn the picture around on a post-production schedule of six weeks–about one-third the normal post-production schedule for a major Hollywood release.

“This gives us breathing space to ensure that everyone is making the same movie,” Landis said. “(Paramount’s) action allows me to direct this movie and not just hang on for dear life.”

The postponement of “Cop III” marks one of the first major moves by Paramount’s new chairman Sherry Lansing, who moved over from the producers’ ranks to take the helm of the studio less than six weeks ago.

“Just because I changed jobs, I didn’t change my philosophy,” Lansing said. “I believe we make movies, not release dates. My job is to protect the ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ franchise, not to destroy it.”

As previously reported, Paramount Communications Inc. president Stanley Jaffe was counting on “Cop III” hitting the August release date.

Lansing and Jaffe were producing partners before they entered into the corporate executive ranks.

The “Cop III” move is significant because it removes a potential blockbuster from the summer 1993 playing field. The second “Cop” installment, also released in the summer, grossed $ 153.7 million in 1987 on its way to worldwide revenues over $ 300 million. “Beverly Hills Cop” grossed $ 229.9 million domestically when it was released in 1984.

With “Cop III” out of the loop, Paramount will rely on the Sharon Stone starrer “Sliver,” director Sydney Pollack’s “The Firm” and the “Saturday Night Live”-derived “The Coneheads” for the season.

Upon postponement of “Cop III,” roughly 100 set decorators, prop designers and construction workers assigned to pre-production on “Cop III” were pinkslipped yesterday. Landis said laying off the “Cop III” crew was one of the hardest things he had to do in his career. “I felt like Nixon,” he said.

Paramount said the bulk of the “Cop III” crew will be retained when the project gets back in gear.

Landis said he’ll get additional time to work with Murphy and writer Steven de Souza’s “Cop III” screenplay before production starts of the pic. He’s been attached to the film for only 10 weeks. Murphy was in agreement that the short schedule for “Cop III” was “insane,” Landis said.

Unusual move

The “Cop III” delay is rare in the big-bucks world of Hollywood, where movies with great expectations are often steamrolled forward rather than delayed. Producer Neufeld said “Cop III” is “too important a franchise and (Murphy was viewed as) too important a star to try and shoot for an unrealistic release date.”

While everyone involved in the picture acknowledged that the short six-week schedule could have doubled the “Cop III” post-production budget from roughly $ 6 million to between $ 12 million and $ 18 million, sources disputed the actual budget of the picture.

Several sources familiar with “Cop III” said the project had gone north of $ 70 million when Paramount pulled the plug. The price included above-the-line costs at roughly $ 30 million, including $ 15 million for Murphy, $ 3 million for Landis and $ 1 million for Rehme and Neufeld. With the cram-down schedule, below-the-line costs were projected at $ 40 million to $ 41 million.

In many ways, Paramount’s cold feet on the February start vindicates producer Joel Silver, who left the project earlier in the year after objecting to the short production schedule. Silver said that if he were asked to work on a more relaxed “Cop III” schedule, “he would love to do it.”