Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F Review – Eddie Murphy Still Is Hollywood’s Top Cop

Eddie Murphy returns in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, bringing the charm of '80s action movies with him.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (L to R) John Ashton as Chief John Taggart, Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley and Judge Reinhold as Billy Rosewood in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. Cr. Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix ©2024
Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix ©2024.

Driving into town in his beat-up Chevy Nova, Detroit detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) still cannot believe the sights of Beverly Hills. He looks with bewilderment at high-fashion stores, a man dressed like a rockstar, and a blonde in a Corvette who offers a playful wink despite her boyfriend in the adjoining seat. Foley ends the sequence with his infectious chuckle, out of place in Beverly Hills but not out of ideas.

When Foley returns 40 years later for Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, he repeats the drive in yet another beat-up vehicle. He notices a new set of California absurdities, including a child shooting video for his Instagram modeling mother and a woman in full burka passing Tom Ford’s store. But nothing here shocks Foley these days. Nothing drives him to his classic chuckle. Instead he gives it all a knowing smile and drives on.

No one watching Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F should be surprised, neither by the callback to the first film nor by its inability to recreate the first movie’s punch. Legacy sequels have become a well-defined Hollywood genre in the last decade, something that Axel F star Eddie Murphy understands well, as seen in 2021’s Coming 2 America. Legacy sequels bring back beloved characters, recreate movie moments we already know and love, and sometimes acknowledge age by introducing a child or a mentee, bridging the past and the present together.

Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Mark Molloy and written by former LAPD detective Will Beall, along with Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, Axel F plays all of these elements by the book. Upon learning that his pal Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) needs help with a deep-cover investigation, Axel returns to Beverly Hills, much to the chagrin of his partner-turned-chief Jeffery Friedman (Paul Reiser). Jeffery isn’t the only person to move up in the world, as Billy’s old partner John Taggart (John Ashton) has come out of retirement to become the chief in Beverly Hills, who reluctantly welcomes Foley back to town.

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Axel’s search for Billy likewise brings him into contact with his estranged daughterJane Saunders (Taylour Paige), her ex-boyfriend Det. Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Captain Cade Grant, played by a sneering Kevin Bacon.

From that brief description, viewers can guess exactly what happens in Axel F. Jane grouches about how Axel was a bad dad, Billy and Taggart quip about how they’re still doing the same stuff they did 40 years ago, and Grant is a dirty cop in on it all (that’s no spoiler, by the way; it’s “revealed” five minutes after Bacon appears on screen).

However, that’s not all that Axel F is. All of the legacy sequel trappings serve an unwinking plot straight out of an ’80s cop movie. Cars chase and crash each other through city streets; Axel and Abbott shoot out baddies in public; Grant even has a gang of henchmen who feel so familiar that you would swear Al Leong is among them (he’s not, sadly). Molloy shoots it all with a practicality rarely seen today. A fantastic early stunt involving a car dangling off the side of a building feels visceral and real, not a CGI composited blob. The final set piece involves a chopper twirling through the air with an immediacy usually only done by George Miller now. Heck, even the scenes of Axel walking around are striking because they happen on real locations, not on an Atlanta soundstage.

The best old-school throwback is Murphy himself. He slips back into Axel with a familiarity and confidence that had already started to dissipate in Beverly Hills Cop II. The movie opens with a crackerjack sequence during a Detroit Red Wings game (full disclosure: this review is written by a man wearing a Red Wings shirt and still smiling about Patrick Kane resigning), through which Axel delivers hilarious commentary. Axel adopts goofy characters to talk his way through tough situations, always the smartest man in the room.

Murphy’s sharp performance and Molloy’s old-school direction carry Axel F through the weaker parts of the movie. Most of the callbacks to past Beverly Hills Cop films work, especially when Murphy puts a new twist on the bit, but Bronson Pinchot seems ready to fall asleep during his scenes as Serge. Paige has a thankless job of scolding Axel for being a bad father, which immediately puts the audience against him, but her flat line deliveries do nothing to improve the plot.

Much better are the scenes that just let Axel do his thing. When Murphy banters with Gordon-Levitt and Paige instead of getting lectured by them, the screen lights up from his still-electric smile. Decades of bad press and worse movies haven’t robbed him of his natural charisma and wit. Likewise, Axel F works when Molloy hits all of the classic cop movie tropes, clearly relishing the opportunity to shoot a sergeant shouting at his reckless detectives or designing a coherent and visceral actions sequence. Not even the movie’s half-hearted attempts to look at the evils of policing from a 21st century lens (Jane Saunders is defense attorney who stands up for those accused by Foley and others) slow down the pure genre fun.

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Back in 1984, Axel Foley reinvigorated the cop movie genre when he drove into Beverly Hills with a winking smile. Forty years later, Axel F reinvigorates the legacy sequel genre by mostly telling a solid cop movie, the type that studios rarely make anymore.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. premiers on Netflix on July 3, 2024.

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3 out of 5