Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. Review | Back in a Black Lion’s Jacket

by Andrew Parker

Thirty years after the franchise was nearly killed by a devastatingly bad third entry and being stuck in development hell for just as long, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. arrives with decidedly lowered expectations and blows them all straight out of the water. While not a perfect piece of entertainment or the best in the Eddie Murphy starring and produced franchise, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. is a perfect example of how to do a legacy sequel properly, delivering a movie that plays nicely on nostalgia while still offering a story capable of standing on its own. It’s confidently one of the small handful of good movies Murphy has starred in since the late 90s, reminding viewers how charismatic a performer he can be when at the top of his game, while introducing his most iconic character to a new generation in the most organic way possible without tinkering with the established genre formula. It’s not a film that’s better than it has any right to be, but rather a movie that knows precisely how good it can be if all the elements come together in the proper mix.

Reckless, maverick Detroit police detective Axel Foley (Murphy) is still wreaking havoc in his hometown, doing whatever it takes to capture bad guys, even if it means destroying half the city to get it done. The world is changing, Foley is becoming an outmoded relic of times gone by, and his boss (Paul Reiser) suggests that their time is coming to an end. But just as Foley finds himself on his last legs in Detroit, he’s called back to his other stomping grounds in Beverly Hills by his old friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), a former cop now working as a private detective. Rosewood alerts Foley that he’s working on a case that involves Axel’s estranged daughter Jane Saunders (Taylour Paige), a defense attorney currently trying to prove the innocence of an accused cop killer. Rosewood says Jane is in grave danger, and just like that Axel is on a plane to the coast. Although Axel is welcomed back by his old friend John Taggart (John Ashton), who’s now the chief, Rosewood has gone missing, and Jane isn’t happy to see her dad at all. For that matter, neither is Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the person tasked with investigating the crimes Foley, Rosewood, and Saunders have been poking their noses into. Foley also catches the attention and ire of Captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon, who can be seen doing even more memorably evil deeds this week in Ti West’s MaXXXine), a well connected and decorated, but crooked cop who works as a puppet for a local drug cartel.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. provides a solid premise that gives Murphy’s wisecracking, sarcastic, slick minded investigator a reason to get back in the saddle again, all without encumbering the character with the sort of unnecessary backstory, lore, or “world building” that plague so many franchises and long delayed sequels these days. Writers Will Beall (Aquaman, Bad Boys Ride or Die) and Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent) show a love for this sort of straightforward action comedy and provide Murphy, Molloy, and company with a solid base to work and riff from. Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. looks, moves, and feels like a consistent entry into the franchise, all without resorting to meta commentary or post-modern gimmicks. That’s no small feat when one considers how much time has passed between instalments. It’s like Foley never missed a step.

The action sequences – especially the handful of chase sequences, rife with all kinds of vehicular mayhem – are thrilling and inventive, punctuated nicely by composer Lorne Ball’s clever riff on Harold Faltermeye’s iconic original score. Beverly Hills itself is on full and gloriously opulent display throughout, and Molloy makes the most of the almost surreally wealthy settings and trappings, while also capturing a unique vibrancy in some of L.A.’s sketchier neighbourhoods. It has the sprawling, lived-in qualities that made Martin Brest’s original film so unique back in 1984 and the kinetic slickness that Tony Scott brought to the first sequel (minus the pervasive nastiness that soured a lot of viewers on that one). Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. subscribes to the time tested and proven “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, but it’s been so long since anyone made one of these there’s always a fear that the formula would be lost to time. Thankfully, Molloy’s film isn’t one of those cases.

But at the end of the day, the Beverly Hills Cop franchise rises and falls on Murphy’s gift of gab, his energy level, and the support he gets from his co-stars, and thankfully all of that is on point. Murphy attacks the role of Axel Foley with renewed energy, a sense of playful snark, and sharp wit, almost as if this character has lived dormant inside of him for the past few decades and was begging to be let off the leash. It’s definitely a marked improvement over a lot of the stuff Murphy has done as of late, and a further distancing from his down-trodden, unfunny turn in the third Beverly Hills Cop film. His chemistry alongside Reinhold, Reiser, Ashton, and scene stealer Bronson Pinchot (two of which return after wisely sitting out the third movie) remains a highlight, but Murphy’s interactions with Paige, Levitt, and Bacon are just as memorable and captivating. Foley is just as big of a hero as he can be an antagonist to those around him, and Paige, Levitt, and Bacon appear to be having the time of their lives being equally enthralled and annoyed by Murphy’s antics. There are no bad parts for the actors in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F., and everyone gets ample opportunity to shine and steal the focus away from the Motor City Motor Mouth.

Not all of the jokes are landing, and some offer light chuckles at best, but the high points vastly outweigh the misses. The film also ends with a pair of unnecessary, clunky duelling codas that suggest some reshoots, and makes one wonder if they shouldn’t have come up with something better in the first place. But outside of those chief complaints, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. is a hard movie not to like if you’re a fan of everything that came before it. Like some other noteworthy Netflix releases, this probably should’ve gotten a token theatrical release before coming out on the streamer, because it would’ve killed before a live audience ready to laugh and gasp. But even at home on a smaller screen and in front of a smaller audience, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. shows there’s still life left in the character, formula, and in Murphy himself.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is now streaming on Netflix.

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