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Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Not that long ago, a legacy sequel like “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” would have made a fortune at the box office over the Fourth of July weekend. But times have changed, and the long-awaited fourth film in the Eddie Murphy series is dropping on Netflix instead of in the multiplex. While streaming services sequels usually mean the death of quality control, “Axel F” is a shockingly entertaining diversion, the best in the series since the film that helped make Murphy one of the biggest stars of his generation. Legacy sequels are often cheap nostalgia machines, but there’s been a shift in the subgenre lately with beloved projects like “Creed” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” 

“Axel F” may not be quite as good as those flicks, but it’s so much closer than anyone could have expected. If nothing else, it reminds viewers just how charming Murphy can be in the right material by giving him talented supporting players to bounce his comic timing off, like Taylour Paige, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Kevin Bacon. The nostalgic callbacks to characters from the original trilogy feel almost contractually required and, hence, fall flat. Still, there’s enough here to accomplish exactly what Netflix wants on a holiday weekend when people used to go to the theater in droves: make them stay home.

“Axel F” opens as these films do, with Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) getting into undercover trouble in Detroit, this time stopping a robbery at a Red Wings game that leads to a destructive chase through the city in a snowplow – the first of a series of well-staged chase scenes in the film, something that seems like a lost art in an era of over-CGI blockbusters. It’s revealed that Axel’s former partner in the DPD, Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser), is the Chief of Police now, but he’s already submitted his retirement papers. This sets in motion a series of conversations about aging law enforcement and a profession that doesn’t always handle its veterans well.  

Axel himself is officially getting too old for this shit himself, but he’s drawn back to Beverly Hills when his estranged daughter Jane (Paige, of “Zola” fame) is nearly murdered because she gets too close to a case involving corrupt cops. Of course, this means the return of familiar faces like Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton) too. The former is a private detective after a fallout with BHPD Chief Taggart, which led to his leaving the force. Joining this world for the first time are Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon). Abbott is Jane’s ex and an obvious ally; Grant might as well be twirling a handlebar mustache, and he’s so clearly the bad guy.

From the beginning, “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” is buoyant and playful in a way that legacy sequels usually aren’t allowed to be, and that was arguably missing in the more leaden second and third films in this series. Murphy is at his best when he’s allowed to bounce through a film, light on his feet, laughing and smiling in a way that fans find so comforting. Even the score here feels playful as Lorne Balfe incorporates elements of the original Harold Faltermeyer classic into something fresh while also directly using tracks from the massive 1984 soundtrack. 

Is that a cheap trick? Maybe, but it’s a matter of balance. When Bronson Pinchot’s Serge shows up in a lame scene, one is reminded of the potential version of this film that’s all callbacks and familiar bits. However, director Mark Molloy uses familiarity as seasoning instead of the whole meal. It may seem like faint praise, but there are so many iterations of this reboot – probably including the one almost once directed by Brett Ratner – that go for cheap jokes about cancel culture, generation gaps, and other beats that usually drag down recent films with older comedy stars. There's refreshingly little of that here as the script keeps the plot moving in a manner that doesn't call attention to the fact that it's a series that skipped at least one entire generation.

It helps a great deal to have supporting performers willing to play along. Murphy often comes to life when he’s given fun sparring partners, such as acting opposite Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “Dolemite is My Name.” Paige, JGL, and Bacon aren’t quite that good, but they all understood the assignment here, not phoning it in like so many Netflix original supporting players. Bacon leans into his self-righteous villainy, and JGL grounds the film in a few moments when it really needs it. Paige is great but the writers admittedly run out of things to do with her, forcing her into the same arguments with her distant dad a few too many times. As for the returning heroes, Reinhold disappears for most of the movie, but Ashton delivers when he’s called on to do so.

As for the production, cinematographer Eduard Grau (“Passing”) works with commercial vet Molloy to give the film just the right amount of Cali sheen, getting closer to the look of the original with just enough touches to remind people of the Tony Scott aesthetic of the first sequel too. Dan Lebental knows how to cut together these hot-weather legacy action/comedy sequels, following up his editing of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” with another tightly-cut summer sequel with the right action rhythm. It may seem like nothing to most Netflix viewers, but the truth is a lot of streaming original films, especially the ones that could be called cash grabs (looking at you, "Red Notice"), look lazily made, and that’s never true here.

It's also worth noting that Fourth of July movies have often meant escapism, a way to leave our concerns behind for a few hours and distract ourselves from reality in an air-conditioned theater. While the world becomes a more divisive, tumultuous, anxiety-producing place by the day in Summer 2024, there’s something almost comforting about a movie that, like the no-nonsense cop of its title, gets the job done.

On Netflix July 3rd.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F movie poster

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (2024)

Rated R

Cast

Eddie Murphy as Det. Axel Foley

Judge Reinhold as Lt. William 'Billy' Rosewood

John Ashton as Det. Sgt. John Taggart

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Det. Bobby Abbott

Kevin Bacon as Capt. Cade Grant

Taylour Paige as Jane Foley

Paul Reiser as Det. Jeffrey Friedman

Bronson Pinchot as Serge

Director

Screenplay

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