‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Review: The Heat Is Off in Netflix’s Generic Legacy Sequel

Look out world! Axel Foley is back and he’s better than … well, not “ever.” The new film isn’t as good as the first and second “Beverly Hills Cop,” not by a long shot. But it’s not as bad as “Beverly Hills Cop III.” So l guess Axel Foley is back and he’s better than he once was. Only once.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” stars Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, who is not and has never been a “Beverly Hills cop.” He’s a quick-witted, down-to-earth Detroit cop who has, on three (now four) separate occasions, solved some crimes in Beverly Hills, a city so bourgeois it may as well be on a different planet. The joke in Martin Brest’s original blockbuster comedy was that Foley is a stranger in a strange land, and the heart of the film was the relationship Foley developed with two actual Beverly Hills cops, Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton).

In Tony Scott’s slick and stylish “Beverly Hills Cop II,” their three-pronged buddy dynamic only grew stronger. Though not as funny as the original, the action was spectacular and the characters evolved in interesting, exciting ways. Then “Beverly Hills Cop III” came along and pissed all that away, rejecting both humor and thrills in favor of, if we’re being honest, just kinda being there and doing stuff. It’s one of the laziest, boringest sequels on record, and it effectively killed the franchise.

Until now. It’s been 30 years and we all seem to have collectively agreed to ignore the existence of “Beverly Hills Cop III.” Even Netflix — which produced and distributed “Axel F” — didn’t bother acquiring the third film this month. You can watch the first two “Beverly Hills Cop” movies on the streamer, and this new one, but not the third. Presumably because they knew if anyone actually watched it, or even saw the thumbnail, they’d lose all interest.

Murphy’s fourth outing kicks in when Axel’s hitherto unmentioned daughter Jane (Taylour Paige, “Zola”), a lawyer in Beverly Hills, takes on a client who was framed for killing an undercover cop. In retaliation, the villains hook her car up to a tow truck and dangle her off a building in the middle of the city in the middle of the day, to convince her to drop the case. Which is exactly the sort of thing a smart villain does when they don’t want to draw any attention to their criminal conspiracy.

Axel comes to the west coast to solve the crime and save his daughter, who hasn’t spoken to him in years because Axel abandoned Jane and her mother. Making matters more complicated, Billy Rosewood went missing while investigating the murder, Jane’s cop ex-boyfriend Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has just arrested Axel for disturbing the peace and Captain John Taggart refuses to believe that a mysteriously wealthy cop named Grant (Kevin Bacon) could possibly be on the take.

Murphy’s natural charm has anchored this series for decades, but his performance as Axel Foley has always been mutating. In the first film he was an affable trickster, in the second he cranked down the humor to match Tony Scott’s intensity, and in the third he just kinda stood there saying his lines. Murphy once again seems fully engaged, thank goodness, and he does his level best to shine through this material.

Unfortunately, the material is tired and not very funny. Murphy’s scenes with Paige reveal little about their characters besides the backstory, so all we get out of them are deadbeat dad complaints and deadbeat dad excuses before the inevitable deadbeat dad reconciliation. His relationship with Rosewood and Taggart, formerly the centerpiece, is almost completely sidelined in favor of his new relationship with Bobby. But Bobby is just a good guy and a good cop. He has no distinctive qualities that play into or against Foley’s personality, so their chemistry never froths over.

The foundational gag of “Beverly Hills Cop” is, again, that Beverly Hills is different than Detroit. But aside from a couple montages and slightly harsher lighting, Mark Molloy’s film makes little use of this contrast. The script by Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten also seems to misunderstand how Foley stands out in this environment. The previous “Beverly Hills Cop” films all featured scenes where the villains get publicly confronted and humiliated by Foley because in Beverly Hills, appearance and status are everyone’s Achilles heel. “Axel F” keeps the dramatic beat but removes the part where Axel makes a spectacle of himself, so now it’s just a drab chat at a bar with no comedic, dramatic or thematic function.

Frankly, a lot of the jokes in “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” are weird. The opening scene finds Axel humiliating a hockey fan for not knowing about the history of the Black hockey league in Canada before laughing in his face and saying he was only kidding. And since he completely made up the name of the team, the implication is he made up the concept too. Except there actually was a Black hockey league in Canada for 35 years, and its historical erasure is an ongoing issue. There was even a documentary about it in 2022 called “Black Ice.” But if you didn’t already know about that, this movie would have you believe Axel Foley made it up. So what … are we even doing there, movie?

The action in “Axel F” ranges from pretty exciting (a helicopter chase that looks genuinely risky) to simply functional (most of the rest of it). There’s a scene where they meet a wacky real estate agent, but it’s mostly an excuse to shoehorn in a cameo from Bronson Pinchot, since otherwise his helpful art/weapons dealer Serge had no reason to turn up. These action scenes and comedic asides may prove a pleasant distraction from the generic deadbeat dad storyline and the generic corrupt cop plot, but it’s a shame that we need distractions in the first place.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” serves two important functions. First, it prevents “Beverly Hills Cop III” from having the last word in this series, and I’m sure we can all respect that. Second, it reminds us that “Beverly Hills Cop” existed, which I’m not sure was necessary but if that’s what you needed, here you go.

Plus, the soundtrack is a greatest hits album from a series of soundtracks which, in all fairness, did have a lot of great hits. The biggest scenes are mostly callbacks and the characters are all familiar, either because we’ve met them before or we’ve met their ilk.

But “Axel F” is so invested in the history of this series that it’s weird how much it screws with the timeline, claiming — in one scene right after the other — that Axel has only been a cop for a little over 30 years, but also that the events of the first movie took place 40 years ago. Later the film also claims that Jane is 32 years old, and since we know these films all take place in the year of their release, and we know Foley didn’t abandon his family until Jane was old enough to have a lot of memories, that means when Axel had an affair with Janice (Theresa Randle) in “Beverly Hills Cop III,” Jane was only two and Axel was cheating on his wife. So now that’s canon.

So “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” isn’t a particularly bad movie, and after the bar was so thoroughly lowered 30 years ago, that makes it look like a bit of an achievement. But it’s still a formulaic legacy sequel, offering familiar comforts instead of new entertainment. If all you want is another “Beverly Hills Cop,” here it is. If you want a great new “Beverly Hills Cop,” keep waiting.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” will be streaming on Netflix starting July 3.

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