Best Defense (1984) – A Review
Oh what a horrible movie this is.
Best Defense is no question a train wreck of a film. The funny thing is the studio knew it had a disaster on their hands and they tried desperately to try to to fix it. That resulted it in not only still being a disaster, but it being an even more confused one than it had initially.
Ok, so this “comedy” stars Dudley Moore as an engineer who’s trying to perfect this system called a dip-gyro. The whole defense company he works for is depending on this thing to work in order to keep them afloat.
One night Moore runs into weird engineer Tom Noonan who slips a disk to Moore. The disk contains the successful working schematics of the dip gyro! Moore takes credit for the design, becomes loved at the company and hot fellow co-worker Helen Shaver now wants to sleep with him because she now believes he’s so smart.
The rub to this is that Noonan gets killed by KGB agent David Rasche who wants the plans to the dip, knows full well what Moore has done and is now after him. Moore finds his charade falling apart when the FBI knows what he was up to too and wants to use him in a sting to catch the crazy Rasche.
Plus, Moore eventually discovers the dip won’t ultimately work, but his company will fudge the numbers to the military in order to make the deal. Moore has to go about trying to actually fix this thing and get everyone to listen.
None of this is the least bit funny or interesting. This would’ve been a forgettable low point for Moore’s movie career. It probably would’ve been chucked on the pile alongside Arthur 2: On The Rocks.
So when this ‘Moore cut’ was previewed for audiences they rightfully poo poo’ed it. Well, they probably more than likely flat out hated it! I would love to see the test screening cards the audiences handed back to the studio on this one.
So what to do? In order to salvage this turkey they had on their hands, Paramount contacted Eddie Murphy. His star was really on the rise at this point after being so popular on Saturday Night Live and having scored with the box office hits 48 Hrs. and Trading Places. They made him an offer – here is a boatload of money for him to appear as a ‘Strategic Guest-Star’ in Best Defense.
Oh, getting Murphy to agree to be in this was certainly an attempted “strategic’ move.
Now the plan was to shoot new Murphy scenes for the film, cut them into the finished film, promote the hell out of him, try to convince audiences this was an ‘Eddie Murphy comedy’ and with his name attached now maybe this comedy wouldn’t be such a bad flop at the box office.
It’s such a strange thing don’t you think? I mean, today we read about how audience test screenings affect films. Recently rumors came out about audience test screenings for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that supposedly made Disney go back to reshoot and tinker with the film.
But to actually hire an actor after the fact, somehow try to incorporate a whole separate storyline – really Murphy’s stuff plays as almost a separate film – into the one they already had – it’s pretty crazy sounding. It sounds like something that would be done for a low-budget Roger Corman movie.
This would be like shooting a turkey of an action movie today and hiring Dwayne Johnson to come in afterwards to shoot some new separate scenes for it after preview audiences threw tomatoes at the screens.
If anything, this wild artistic act demonstrates just how popular Murphy was at this time. Paramount actually believed he could actually save a stinker by showing up in it for less than fifteen minutes. Amazing.
So, how did they get this plan to work? Moore’s portion of the film we now would be told was taking place two years prior in 1982 with the design of this new tank taking place. Time skip ahead and Murphy would play a tank commander driving this newly designed tank taking place in 1984. Get it? There will be two parallel storylines happening! Sounds terrible right?
Murphy wasn’t able to save Best Defense. His association with it might’ve helped initially, tricking some of the audience into what they thought was an Eddie Murphy comedy and the movie probably made more money had he not been in it, but word soon spread about it. It took it’s meager earnings that it could manage, got pummeled by the critics and disappeared. To this day I still encounter Murphy fans who have never even heard of Best Defense.
And for good reason. Even Murphy said the movie was awful and he did it only for the money. Supposedly he was paid really well for it. I’ve read that he was paid more for showing up in Best Defense than he was for starring in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places combined! It was just an offer he couldn’t turn down at the time.
Murphy’s tank bit is the most interesting thing in the movie. It’s not good and only hardcore Murphy fans would be interested, but it does liven things up slightly in comparison to Moore’s hackneyed comedic/thriller storyline.
The idea is Murphy is taking this new tank out on a test run with a pair of inexperienced crewman. The tank is poorly made, falling apart, nothing works. They then find themselves in the middle of Iraq invading Kuwait (some odd foreshadowing there). That’s where the importance of the dip gyro working comes in. Did Moore figure it out and make it work to save Eddie’s skin?
Going back to the first half of the movie when it was just a ‘Dudley Moore comedy’. I have to wonder whatever made Moore decide to do Best Defense in the first place. Maybe he got a big payday out of it like Murphy did. It’s a mindbogglingly dull story. There’s no wit happening, no energy, nothing interesting to watch. The only thing that Moore can do to liven things up is yell and run around. Rasche does the same only he dials it up even higher as this crazed enemy agent.
A lot of the humor are silly sex jokes aimed at Shaver. The supporting characters are incredibly forgettable and have nothing to do other than to be someone Moore can interact with.
In fact, Moore’s character is not very likable at all. You know how in many of his best films Moore’s characters have a sweet edge to them? They might act selfish and immature at times, but we can see there’s kindness just under the service. Here, Moore just acts lecherous and panicked. There is nothing endearing about his character or any fun watching him.
He’s married to Kate Capshaw, has a son and is attempting an affair with Shaver. He’s not a guy I’m rooting for. In fact, I don’t have any sympathy towards this jerk and think he deserves what he gets when the FBI corners him.
I think the only moment my ears perked up during the entire Moore section of this movie is when we hear Capshaw hum the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark. That got me to pause and say, “Oh, that’s a bit of an inside joke since she was in Temple of Doom.”
As for Murphy’s bit, there’s not much else to say about it. He also does a lot of screaming at the breaking down tank. He tosses out a few amusing lines, but it wouldn’t be enough to buy a ticket to see this, no matter how much of fan you are of Murphy.
This just ended up as a strange project for him that he didn’t need – other than getting a hefty payday out of it. Fortunately, for him he shook off Best Defense like a minor cold. At the end of 1984 Beverly Hills Cop would be release and it would cement him as one of the most popular stars of the 1980s.
It would be years later when Murphy started to churn out awful comedies routinely. I haven’t seen all of them, but Best Defense would definitely be a contender towards the top of the worst films of his career.
Could it worse than Dave and Norbit? I haven’t seen those so I can’t comment. I did see The Adventures of Pluto Nash and from what I remember of it I’d make the controversial statement that it was better than Best Defense.
Best Defense was the second to last film directed by Willard Huyck with his wife Gloria Katz producing. Huyck would next move onto directing Howard the Duck in 1986. That would be his final outing as a director.
One final thing that always confused me about Best Defense is that when they did manage to recruit Murphy for it, they actually shot a scene between Moore and Murphy together. I imagine it would’ve been at the end of the film after all the “comedy” was finished. Probably like a comedic postscript between the two running into each other.
A scene was shot, and they never used it. There’s another odd decision. You have these two big stars and don’t put them in a scene together in your movie – and they had one! It’s just another head scratcher to me.
My thought is – the film was such a mess from the start you might as well just throw whatever you got onto the screen at that point. Especially if it’s a scene with the two stars you built your movie around! It certainly couldn’t have made things any worse.