It’s not funny enough to pass as an out-and-out comedy and it’s not consistently exciting enough to pass as an out-and-out action movie. There are a few bright spots - the rescue staged on Great America’s Sky Whirl is solid and the Annihilator 2000, if the Home Shopping Network was a gun, deserved better - but it’s tough to recommend.
That is unless you’re a theme park fan, then it’s a strangely sincere love letter.
Landis is a self-professed “Disney freak.” He directed both the 30th and 35th anniversary specials for Disneyland. Animal House ends with a joke about Universal Studios Hollywood and all of his subsequent films for the company end with a call-back invitation to visit. He also directed the TV spot for Universal’s short-lived Hollywood stunt show, The Riot Act. The finest points of reference in Beverly Hills Cop III are likely his - Landis personally hired the legendary Sherman Brothers to write a Wonder World anthem to rival “It’s a Small World” and make reverent cameos, though only Robert made the final cut.
Wonder World is supposed to be Disneyland, plain and simple. It has a vaunted stable of animated characters with the plush toys to match. The creator is a carbon copy of Walt Disney down to his gee-shucks nickname - Uncle Dave instead of Uncle Walt. Paramount even minted promotional Wonder Dollars in familiar pastels, though Disney Dollars never had “Kiss My Ass” engraved across the top.
The actual depiction, however, is a patchwork of other parks real and faked.
Paramount’s Great America gets the most exposure. The production crew was given carte blanche to use the grounds. For early morning shoots, Landis made cast and crew alike ride the roller coasters until they were properly awake. The needle-threaded loop of Bolliger & Mabillard’s Vortex made the poster. Carousel Columbia, the park’s double-decker centerpiece, gets plenty of time to shine. The aforementioned Sky Whirl is the only attraction that’s used beyond set dressing, but keen eyes will spot more. The Demon, The Grizzly, and Great America’s long-lost train make background cameos. At one point, a bad guy rains bullets from a passing Skyway bucket. The twinkling midway, along with a few flat rides, makes a picturesque appearance toward the end.
Great America may not have the most fervent of fandoms, but Beverly Hills Cop III is a lovely time capsule of the place circa-1993.
Then there are the dark rides.
Alien Attack is a remixed ode to Universal Studios Hollywood. There’s no mistaking the subway set of Earthquake: The Big One. If you’ve been on the tram tour, you already know how it goes. A train jackknifes down the opposite track. The ceiling collapses under the weight of a sliding tanker truck, here used to flatten a villainous security guard. The only addition are the “aliens,” better known as Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. There are rumors on the usual forums of reused animatronics from Battle of Galactica, a tram tour attraction that opened in 1979 and closed in 1992. Any closer inspection or economical thinking reveals all the Cylons here as actors in costumes, though the costumes themselves could’ve come from the Universal archives.
The park’s other marquee attraction, connected by Magic Kingdom-inspired utilidors, is such an detailed reference that it’s often mistaken as the real deal.
Make no mistake - Land of the Dinosaurs is not Knott’s Berry Farm’s Kingdom of the Dinosaurs. Though it features tiny sleigh-shaped time machines roaming a prehistoric forest occupied by stiff-limbed dinosaurs, it was built entirely on Stage 37 at Universal. Alien production designer Michael Seymour laid it all out from scratch, with animatronics provided by museum-supplier Kokoro Exhibits. The attraction that inspired it would close ten years later, leaving this climactic sequence as a strange almost-tribute to its memory.
Despite a prize Memorial Day 1994 opening, Beverly Hills Cop III made less than half of its more stylish predecessor. Both Landis and Murphy have disowned it. Rumors and apologetic plans for a Beverly Hills Cop IV continue to this day, with the latest possibility being a Netflix-exclusive to shoot next year. It is unlikely that Axel Foley will ever return to Wonder World.
The film’s legacy is best summed up by an act of charity.
After production wrapped, Paramount donated the 500 custom-made Wonder World plushes to children’s charities for Christmas. Somewhere out there is a stuffed Oki-Doki sitting in a Goodwill, looking to all the world like a generic cartoon elephant. To ordinary folks, it is. But to the few so particularly obsessed, it’s something special.
Such is Beverly Hills Cop III. Generic, if not disappointing, unless you’re similarly obsessed.