‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Review: A Weak Nostalgia Trip You Can Take On Your Couch

This isn't an Eddie Murphy blockbuster. It's a prime example of a risk-averse mega-company using existing IP to hedge their bets on their investment.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. Andrew Cooper/Netflix

There’s a moment a little less than halfway through Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, a franchise arising this Fourth of July weekend after a 30-year absence like a noisy brood of cicadas, when Eddie Murphy’s titular Detroit cop, Axel Foley, has to check into a fancy hotel. As has been the style of the films since the first one exploded two generations ago, Murphy affects an accent and begins a bit, pretending to be a hoity-toity writer from Bon Appetit. But this time, before the routine can get off the ground, he pulls the plug with a shrug. “No . . . to hell with this,” he says in his own voice. “I’m just too tired.”

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I feel you Eddie/Axel. We all do. 


BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F ★1/2 (1.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Mark Molloy  
Written by: Will Beall, Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten 
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Taylour Paige, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kevin Bacon, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot
Running time: 115 mins.


Exhaustion of every sort pervades Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. You see it in its dearth of ideas, as the film recycles structure, set pieces and even music cues from the original. The humor about how life is different in La La Land—while washed clean of the homophobia that was once an essential part of Murphy’s brand—is as dated as the jokes on a Dixie Cup. (Not to mention the fact that it’s been at least 20 years since a magazine writer could expect to expense a nearly $1,000 a night hotel room.) 

There is even the pall of industry fatigue to the endeavor. This is a made-for-multiplexes summer comedy that the company releasing it—streaming behemoth Netflix—isn’t even bothering to screen in theaters. What is a summer blockbuster divorced from the ritual of summer moviegoing anyway? In this case, a rather weak nostalgia trip on which you never leave your couch.

Of course, in this case, we have an actual time traveler as our guide. Remaining the picture of Dorian Gray while all around him show their miles, Murphy looks and acts as if the last 40 years went by in a minute. 

The movie sparks to life when he commits to bits that could have been a part of an old stand-up set—riffing on the code-switching of a Black valet at a country club or affecting Jamaican Patois on the phone. But while Murphy boasts his mid-80’s fighting weight and vintage Detroit Lions jacket, the insouciance that made him such an unpredictable live wire has been replaced by an almost sullen earnestness that is a whole lot less fun: he really needs this to work! 

Like the original, there’s a Detroit-infrastructure-smashing opener featuring oversized locomotives. (This time it’s a snowplow instead of a cigarette truck, and Murphy is driving rather than hanging from the back.) This leads to Axel receiving a dressing down by a superior (played by the original’s Paul Reiser) and then a desperate call for help from an old friend in the 310 area code. This time it’s Judge Reinhold’s Billy, who has left his position at the Beverly Hills PD to become a private investigator, and is working on a case that involves Jane, an forthright attorney who happens to be Foley’s estranged daughter.

Played by actor and recording artist Taylour Paige, whose turn as the lead in Janicza Bravo’s 2020 caper Zola is seared in the memory of all who saw it, this is where Axel F reveals fully what it could have been and what it decidedly isn’t. Instead of committing to a two-hander that could have capitalized on Paige’s obvious humor and inner ferocity, screenwriters Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten write Jane as if she spent her life studying episodes of Dr. Phil instead of for the bar exam. “The parent is always the parent,” she sullenly intones to Axel when he suggests that they are both to blame for their fractured relationship.

Taylour Paige and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

And a Beverly Hills Cop movie is always a Beverly Hills Cop movie, for better and for worse. The means comically destructive chase sequences that may or may not feature The Pointer Sisters (Lil Nas X provides a featured song to represent this century) and a team-up with a comparatively naive cop. Played by Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Sam is every bit as flatly sincere and severely underwritten (and un-creatively named) as Jane, whom he used to date.

There are a few highlights along the way—Luis Guzman as a drug dealing informant, Bronson Pinchot’s funny accent as Serge—but nothing to give us the feeling that this is much more than a prime example of the thing that is most crowding the joy out of modern American filmgoing: a risk-averse mega-company using existing IP to hedge their bets on their investment. Even this film’s few innovations—the bad guy is a well-placed cop played by a phoning-it-in Kevin Bacon—feels half-hearted.

By the end, all we really have is Murphy. The megawatt smile still flashes as bright as a Sunset Boulevard billboard but the chaotic energy that made him one of the brightest comedic lights of the previous century has calcified into something off-putting and corporate. 

I guess we can be happy for the memories, but we would have much preferred the magic. 

   

‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Review: A Weak Nostalgia Trip You Can Take On Your Couch