Color, 1991, 95 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Starring Ken Wahl, Matt Frewer, Harley Jane Kozak, Robert Davi, Lee Ving, Branscombe Richmond, Lyman Ward
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Ascot Elite (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
As lovably ridiculous as American action films get, The Taking of Beverly Hills was a victim of one stroke of bad luck after another in the spate of Die Hard imitations that poured out during the late '80s and early '90s. A Canadian-born director and Beverly Hills resident, Sidney J. Furie had made his name with slick productions like The Ipcress File, Iron Eagle, The Entity, and Lady Sings the Blues, often showing off his keen eye for widescreen composition. However, his career took a big stumble with Cannon's disastrous Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which led him to pursue a passion project of his own choosing based around his own stomping grounds. The result was this large-scale heist film set across Beverly Hills, mostly represented by a shockingly convincing replica built in Mexico so it could be torched and blasted apart with wild abandon. The end result is tailor made for the action crowd, but unfortunately its release through the collapsing Nelson Entertainment (a late permutation of Embassy Pictures) ended up getting it passed on to Columbia Pictures, who barely bothered to get it onto movie screens. Eventually it hit VHS from New Line in 1992, by which point its wild Panavision action scenes had been pan and scanned to death. However, the lively film still managed to firebomb its way into the hearts of more than a few fans who gave it an evening's rental.
The plot is really secondary here as night starts to fall in Beverly Hills on the evening of a gala fund raiser for the homeless. Among the attendees are Robert Masterson (Davi, basically reprising his bad guy role from Licence to Kill), owner of the L.A.'s football team (that's enough to qualify this as a fantasy film), and one of his star players, Boomer (Wahl). Both of them make a move on socialite Laura (Kozak) but she ends up taking Boomer home; however, while he's waiting in a bubble bath for a romantic evening, a big truck crash outside releases what's announced as a toxic chemical spill. The Beverly Hills residents are quickly spirited away to a hotel for six hours in neighboring Century City, but something much more criminal is actually afoot as stragglers like Laura are abducted from their homes. Missed in the sweep, Boomer is almost killed by a phony cop but saved at the last second by Ed (Max Headroom's Frewer), an ex-cop who was in on what is actually an ambitious plan to loot the city of its valuables including artwork, cash, and jewelry. Now disgusted by the killing in what was supposed to be a no-casualty heist, Ed teams up with Boomer to put a stop to the scheme that pits them against trucks, tanks, and an entire weapon arsenal.
Though it may not have the snappy dialogue of the era's top-tier action films (e.g., everything written by Shane Black), The Taking of Beverly Hills makes up for it with a second half that's essentially one gonzo set piece after another loaded with vehicle chases (with at least one usually on fire), massive property destruction, and death-defying stunts. And yes, Boomer's football skills do come into play in the climax, with highly amusing results. Reunited here with The Wanderers co-star Tony Ganios (as a phony EPA rep), Wahl was fresh off of the popular series Wiseguy and had the chops to be a solid leading man before a severe injury ended his acting career a year after completing this film. He and Frewer make a fun team here running all over Beverly Hills, and thanks to loads of pre-CGI spectacle on display, the film has aged well and still delivers the brainless goods.
Out of circulation for decades, The Taking of Beverly Hills ended up in the MGM library along with a roster of other Nelson properties (including The Princess Bride and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) but didn't get a DVD or Blu-ray release until 2013 courtesy of German label Ascot Elite (under the title Boomer), using a new HD master created by MGM that finally restored the film's original inky blacks and wide compositions. The film plays infinitely better this way, and thankfully that same master is the one used for Kino Lorber's separate Blu-ray and DVD releases in 2018. It's modest by the standards of today's recent releases with that somewhat soft '90s film stock look, but compared to how this used to look, it's a massive step up. The DTS-HD MA English stereo audio (no caption options) is also lively, especially with the very early '90s soundtrack including throwbacks like EMF's "Unbelievable." The big extra here is a new, very detailed audio commentary by Furie biographer Daniel Kremer and Howard S. Berger, who focus quite a bit on the director including his proficiency with action films (including several direct-to-video titles after this) and logistics of recreating the title city in another country entirely. They also have some choice comments about the mammoth body count and Wahl's impressive mullet, too. Two theatrical trailers are also included along with bonus ones for The Soldier (also with Wahl), Blown Away, City of Industry, The Last of the Finest, and Company Business.
Reviewed on March 7, 2018.