The big news first. No, make that the only news. Billy Rosewood is back and better than ever. Billy Rosewood! Billy Rosewood? Sure, you remember, the innocent young detective, expertly played by Judge Reinhold, who was street- smartened up by Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, of course) in Beverly Hills Cop.
As a result of some unfathomable oversight, Billy has been permitted to develop a little in Cop II. His naivete is now touched by madness, a sort of stressed-out schizophrenia. On the one hand he has turned his apartment into a greenhouse where he croons gently to his hundreds of houseplants; on the other he has assembled a collection of heavy weaponry that Rambo (whose posters also decorate his pad) might envy. It may be, in fact, that the blissful look that crosses his kindly face when he lays hands on a rocket launcher in a situation that compels its immediate use is the comic high point of this sequel. Anyway, he provides a high, sweet note of mysterious absurdity that occasionally cuts through the din of a movie that all too resolutely attempts to replicate the comedy megahit of the decade.
No matter. The point is that everything anyone thinks might possibly have contributed to that initial success is present and noisily accounted for the second time around: the pounding rock score with the volume turned up to brain-damage level; the incomprehensible plot, this time involving a series of robberies linked to an arms-smuggling scheme (don't ask how or why); the music-video montages of the good life in Beverly Hills alternating with sudden descents into motiveless and entirely humorless violence; the none-too-subtle maneuverings to bring Murphy into contact with variously dim figures who can be run over by his motor mouth; the police colleague-foils, who, besides Reinhold, include John Ashton and Ronny Cox and whose chief function is to shake their heads bemusedly over Murphy's improvisational nerve and witty, if occasionally obscene, sayings.
Above all, no attempt has been made to expand Murphy's character. Axel Foley is still a man who can instantly weave a seemingly impenetrable disguise out of an accent and a gush of words parodying everyone from a West Indian psychic to a building inspector. That it is good fun to watch him talk his way into and out of trouble, past authority figures both petty and grand, is beyond dispute. That he can assert his brilliance while retaining his character's lovability in these encounters is a little miracle of the performer's art. That he could move beyond riffing and sustain a long comic line if he dared seems a possibility worth exploring.
This is the big opportunity Beverly Hills Cop II misses. For there is an inherent problem about any sequel that too slavishly duplicates the style and substance of its predecessor; it cannot deliver the delight of discovery that the original provided. Axel made a swell first impression, but he is still living on it, perhaps not yet a bore, but not quite as fascinating as he once promised to be. This is not going to bother the apparently vast audience that now exists for twice-told tales about familiar figures. And it makes life easy for the guys in marketing and very likely delightful for those in accounting. But when Reinhold is absent, there are bound to be some who will find Cop II the worst sort of failure, a loudly cautious one.