They’re calling it just a temporary delay, but Paramount’s decision to stop production on Beverly Hills Cop 3 means more trouble for the studio and more tarnish on Eddie Murphy’s once-glowing star. Set to start shooting in February, with Murphy again playing wiseacre detective Axel Foley, the big-budget action film would have poured millions into the studio’s summer ‘93 coffers. But Sherry Lansing, making one of her first decisions as the new chairman of Paramount’s motion-picture group, ordered a halt when it became clear that (1) Cop 3’s projected budget had risen from $55 million to more than $70 million, and (2) Murphy’s latest movie, The Distinguished Gentleman, had not restored his box office clout. & After six weeks, the comedy that was widely anticipated as Murphy’s comeback movie has grossed only $41.5 million, a distant cry from the $235 million 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop made.
Part of Cop 3’s problem was the attempt to rush it into theaters by early August (possibly because Paramount’s fiscal year ends Oct. 31). The average studio feature takes about nine months to make. The effort to deliver Cop 3 in just six months led to some inevitable budget swelling.
But it’s Murphy who stands at the center of Cop 3’s financial crunch. His $15 million salary (plus $1.65 million for Eddie Murphy Productions, $500,000 for Murphy’s personal producer, and $1.5 million for perks like limos, security, and personal staff) established Cop 3’s spending scale and led to above-the-line fees (directors, writers, et al.) of roughly $30 million. Couple that with Distinguished Gentleman’s sluggish performance, and ”it made everyone nervous,” says a Paramount source. ”They’re even nervous now about the $55 million budget, let alone anything higher.”
Cop 3 became an active project last June. After several Cop 3 concepts — including one that sent Foley to London to mix it up with Scotland Yard — failed to pass muster, Murphy okayed a Die Hard — flavored story in which Foley and his niece tangle with villains at a Disneyland-style amusement park called Wonder World. By November the film had a director, John Landis (Innocent Blood), a producer, Joel Silver (the Lethal Weapon series), and a go-ahead from Paramount.
”Except Stanley Jaffe (Paramount’s chief operating officer, and Lansing’s boss) says, ‘I want the picture this summer and I want it for $55 million,”’ Silver recalls. ”I said, Stanley, you can’t have both. You can have it next summer, but it’s going to cost $75 million. Or you can have it for $55 million, but it won’t be ready until the fall.”
Jaffe insisted on sticking to the six-month plan until reality intruded just after the holidays. At a meeting with Landis and Cop 3’s other principals, Lansing suspended work on the film and asked for a less-expensive script and budget. (Murphy’s publicist would say only that Cop 3 required more preproduction time.) Officially, the movie is suspended for eight weeks. But, says a source close to Cop 3, ”Landis basically told the crew he didn’t hold much hope for the film getting back on track. ‘If you can find other work,’ he said, ‘take it.”’
Where does this leave Murphy? In a different income bracket — but only a slightly lower one. His Cop 3 salary looks like a thing of the past (”Is anyone else waiting in line,” asks a production executive, ”to pay Murphy $15 million? No”) and his asking price will probably drop to the level (closer to $10 million) that Disney paid him for Distinguished Gentleman. A.D. Murphy, industry analyst for Variety, doesn’t foresee any steeper decline. Because of what he calls ”a time lag, or salary lag,” the low earnings of Murphy’s movies haven’t yet knocked down his pay.
Murphy’s larger problem, says one studio exec, is that ”he’s fallen prey to the Elvis syndrome. He’s definitely insulated.” Adds a producer, ”He only hears from yes-men. There’s no one in his orbit who levels with him.”
As for Cop 3, Paramount is trying to come up with a script that cuts down on expensive action scenes. If it can be quickly approved and budgeted, Cop 3 will begin filming in early summer and make it into theaters by mid-1994.