2 0 1 0. Sequel to '2001' - a tough act to follow; And, Eddie Murphy: 'Beverly Hills Cop'

''2001: A Space Odyssey'' is one of the great films of the '60s. Directed by the inventive Stanley Kubrick at the height of his powers, it set lofty new standards for science-fiction imagery. It also steered film editing toward new paths that are still waiting for moviemakers bold enough to explore them.

More important yet, it was a visionary epic that was not afraid to raise mysteries beyond its own capacity for neat solutions. Using complex visual strategies to probe openly philosophical isues, it transformed a genre often dominated by hardware and cliches.

All told, not an easy act to follow, least of all by a director with a spotty science-fiction record. Earlier films by Peter Hyams include the flawed ''Outland,'' a spacey rehash of ''High Noon,'' and the wretched ''Capricorn One, '' a neck-and-neck race between cynicism and stupidity. He seemed the wrong choice to tackle the sequel to an inimitable sci-fi classic, if a right choice existed at all.

Yet the new ''2010'' turns out to be a pretty good movie. While it lacks the prime virtues of its sire - originality and profundity, above all - it weaves some strong visual and cerebral themes from ''2001'' into a diverting tapestry. For those who know the original film, the sequel also gains resonance by recalling its heady impact, which echoes dimly through Hyams's minor-league variations.

And there's a commendable new twist: an explicit call for understanding and cooperation between earthly superpowers, which learn an important (if not very new) lesson from the cosmic events of the story, which is based on an Arthur C. Clarke novel, as its predecessor was.

''2010'' begins with the last words of ''2001'' - spaceman Dave Bowman gasping into his radio that the enigmatic ''monolith'' he's been chasing is ''full of stars.'' What did he mean by that? We who saw ''2001'' got some idea by following him through the ''stargate'' into the explosive climax and mystical finale of the film.

But other figures in the movie, left on Earth or lost in space, didn't get to watch all this. So it's logical for the sequel to focus on a minor ''2001'' character who's been wondering for nine years whatever happened to the spaceship Discovery, and what was Bowman talking about, anyway?

As things develop, this curious scientist (played by Roy Scheider) must join a Soviet space mission if he's going to find out. So he and his colleagues blast off with some Russians - only to learn, as soon as they hit deep space, that World War III is about to erupt back home.

The travelers start eyeing one another suspiciously, but soon realize there are higher things to ponder when you're heading for Jupiter and big revelations. Then a ghostly Bowman turns up with a message that's both encouraging and alarming, forcing our heroes into some tough decisions.

It's an adequate story line, and it leads to some engaging situations when the characters reach the Discovery and reactivate good old HAL-9000, the computer that lost its marbles in ''2001'' but now behaves as well as See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo ever did.

Hyams lets some howlers slip into the dialogue, as when a commander on Earth says something like, ''And while you're up there, fellas, would you check out this big black spot that just appeared on Jupiter?'' And the special effects are flabby when they're not derivative - especially in the background, where the control-panel screens hold the most banal displays I can remember in a big-budget SF picture.

Most of the way, though, Hyams treads a safe path between explaining what happened at the end of ''2001'' and simply pointing the mysteries in new directions. The result is no classic, but it's watchable.

'Beverly Hills Cop'

''Beverly Hills Cop'' is a movie about contrasts - between black and white, rich and poor, rules and instincts, inner city and sunny coast. Its story is ordinary stuff, but with all those overtones and undercurrents, there's plenty to keep your attention.

The picture begins not with airy shots of California comfort, but gritty views of down-and-out Detroit neighborhoods, where Axel (played by Eddie Murphy) is a streetwise, foul-mouthed policeman with methods too rambunctious for his own department to put up with.

Loyal to a fault, he's delighted when an old pal visits from out West, even if the friend is mixed up in some crooked scheme. When the visitor is killed by a fellow hoodlum, Axel heads for Beverly Hills to track the culprit down - angering not just the underworld, but the police in both cities, who don't like his theory that the best sleuthing comes from gut feelings, not rulebook procedures.

This plot packs few surprises, and the supporting characters are familiar types: a wealthy art dealer with shady connections, a high-spirited young woman who helps Axel, a fresh-faced California cop who learns from him. Also familiar are Murphy's four-letter outbursts, which come so constantly that even a fellow policeman complains. (The rating is R, reflecting this language and several violent scenes.)

What makes the movie soar at times - and will surely make it a winner at the box office - are the ironic confrontations between freewheeling, freeswinging Axel and the buttoned-down Beverly Hills world that he invades. Without much overplaying, Murphy brings out endless incongruities in this situation, savoring Axel's sassy responses to the uptight attitudes he finds at every turn in a very white, very correct, very privileged domain with few similarities to his own funky background.

Carefully blended with the slim plot, the built-in contradictions between Axel and ''the Coast'' allow him to grow into one of the most engaging characters in recent memory - a rescourceful and intuitive good guy whose ethics come from the heart rather than a memorized code, and whose scruffy manner conceals more good sense than all the natty suits and computer banks of his befuddled Beverly Hills counterparts. He's a people's hero all the way, running circles around friends and foes alike, and it would be hard not to like him.

''Beverly Hills Cop'' was directed by Martin Brest, who gave us the delicate ''Going in Style'' five years ago and the weird but indelible ''Hot Tomorrows'' before that. His career went into eclipse when he was fired from the production of ''WarGames'' after investing much time and energy in it, and it's nice to see him bounce back with a large-scale picture that reflects the same values as his earlier, more intimate films: strong characters, a vivid sense of location, and a keen awareness of how funny and sad it is to find yourself a fish out of water with no clear idea of what's going to happen next.

''Beverly Hills Cop'' is an action movie and an Eddie Murphy vehicle first, but Brest's dramatic intelligence surfaces often enough to make a welcome difference in what could have been an ordinary crowd-pleaser.

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