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Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F Review - Eddie Murphy's Back On The Beat

  • Eddie Murphy is great
  • It strikes a nice balance between the classic and the new
  • The action is on point
  • The scenes of actual police work tend to drag a little bit

When the "Beverly Hills Cop" franchise went into a bit of a skid three decades ago with "Beverly Hills Cop III," it was a classic case of diminishing returns on a sequel, coupled with a star in Eddie Murphy who seemed a little tired of doing the same old thing. Murphy wanted to grow brash Detective Axel Foley as a character, while the film surrounding him still wanted to squeeze maximal comedic potential out of the proceedings, and the result was a kind of odd creative stalemate — and a film that failed to live up to its predecessors.

Now, 30 years later, Murphy is back to try again with "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F," a legacy sequel that seeks to not only restore the franchise to its former glory, but do what Murphy was after all along and actually grow the Axel Foley character in the eyes of his audience. It's an ambitious set of goals, to be sure, but given Murphy's recent track record with things like "Dolemite Is My Name" and "Coming 2 America," he seemed primed to be able to pull it off.

And, very happily, he did. Funny, raucous, and driven by a solid emotional core, "Axel F" is a worthy successor to previous "Beverly Hills Cop" triumphs, and proof that Murphy is both a more mature performer and still an unstoppable comedic juggernaut when the right ingredients are in place.

Back to Beverly Hills

It's been 30 years since we last saw him, but Axel Foley is still a determined, rule-breaking Detroit police detective, willing to do just about anything to get his perp no matter what his superiors have to say about it. Axel's old-school ways get him in plenty of trouble in his home city, but when his estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), a well-meaning defense attorney, gets into trouble in California, he decides it's worth making a little trouble back on the West Coast, too. After a call from his old friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), Axel is back in Beverly Hills, much to the chagrin of Billy's former partner (and Axel's old friend) John Taggart (John Ashton).

Right away, there are problems. For one thing, despite threats on her life from corrupt forces somewhere within the police department, Jane doesn't really want her dad's help after years of very little contact and even less love. For another, Billy's turned up missing after getting close to a key piece of evidence. Then there's the young detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who might be Jane's ex-boyfriend and definitely doesn't want the legendary Axel Foley sniffing around his case. All that and a gang of hired killers, too, but it's all in a day's work for Axel.

There's an immediate push-pull at work in this story — not just between Axel's way of doing things and the ways of the people around him, but between the man Axel wants to be and the man he actually is. The script (by Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etten) is satisfyingly adept at setting up these stakes between Axel and Jane and even between Axel and himself. Even more satisfyingly, those stakes actually end up paying off even as the film gets into some good old-fashioned "Beverly Hills Cop" action.

Eddie Murphy returns to form

That action, helmed by first-time feature filmmaker Mark Molloy, is a bit slow to start, aside from a very fun opening sequence involving a Detroit snowplow. But once it gets going, it really gets going. At no point does this film feel like a glossed-over version of the kind of comedically charged chaos that made the first "Beverly Hills Cop" film feel so fun. From a very wobbly helicopter chase to more than one sequence involving a golf cart of some kind, Molloy always seems to have things well in hand, both in terms of letting the bullets and explosions fly and in terms of letting the characters tell the story of the action with their reactions. And as you might expect, it's here that Eddie Murphy gets the chance to soar.

The version of Axel Foley that Murphy rolls out in this film is a guy who's not just stuck in his ways, but addicted to them; a cop who only really knows how to get in the middle of chaos and shake it around until some version of the truth falls out. Or at least, that's what he thinks. The script, and Murphy's performance, both make it clear that Axel is in conflict with himself, trying to find some kind of path forward after boxing himself into a personal and professional corner that's persisted for more than 30 years. He's a guy who wants to grow, who wants to find a new way of doing things, but can't quite see the path ahead, so he just keeps lowering his head and ramming into walls in the hope that he'll find the right direction. In some ways it's a classic legacy sequel play, and it's definitely a classic play for cop stories about old-school guys who only know how to do one thing really well, but Murphy also imbues those classic vibes with a sense of contemporary heart. He can still do the funny voices and shout a string of curses and wring maximal laughs out of the situation, yes — but he can also show us a guy who just wants to figure out where things went wrong with his daughter, and the fact that he succeeds at giving us both sides of Axel is proof of his ever-maturing talent.

While some of the old magic might be a little lost in translation, "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F" still manages to deliver just about everything we could have hoped for from a legacy sequel in this franchise. It's funny, it's action-packed, it's got heart, and it's got Eddie Murphy proving once again that he's still got it. What more could you want?

"Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F" hits Netflix on July 3.