2.5 out of 5 stars

There comes a time in every pop star’s career when they accept that fans just want to hear the old hits. The same’s true for legendary Hollywood actors. Like Harrison Ford before him, the ageing Eddie Murphy is busily raiding his back catalogue to make belated sequels to his biggest hits, starting with Coming 2 America (2021) and now continuing with Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. One can only hope Norbit 2 doesn’t make it off the drawing board.

Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop (1984) was the highest-grossing film of that year and still the most successful R-rated film ever made — adjusted for inflation. It also cemented smart-mouthed cops as a formula for others to emulate in the 1980s, a sub-genre Murphy had already helped establish with 48 Hrs. (1982). Tony Scott (Top Gun) made a successful sequel in 1987 before a third instalment tried but failed to revive Murphy’s flagging career in 1994. The Nutty Professor (1996) managed to give Murphy a brief second wind before voicing a green ogre’s bucktoothed donkey helped pay the bills…

Beverly Hills Cop IV has been rumoured since the mid-1990s and nearly got made a decade ago with Belgian filmmakers Adil & Bilall, whose Hollywood careers ironically got started by making Bad Boys for Life (2020) , another belated sequel to a franchise that owed a debt to Beverly Hills Cop.

Australian commercials director Mark Molloy now brings Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F to the screen, if not the big one, as it’s being distributed by Netflix. Expectations are consequently lowered for a streaming movie, particularly with memories of Prime Video’s lacklustre Coming to America sequel fresh in people’s minds. So is Axel F a satisfying return for one of Murphy’s most beloved characters? Does it at least improve upon John Landis’s awful third movie? Or does it all hinge on shaky nostalgia aimed at middle-aged people who rejoiced when Crazy Frog revived the theme tune as a ringtone?

30 years after the last instalment, Detroit cop Axel Foley (Murphy) is pulled back to Beverly Hills once again to crack a conspiracy that’s endangering his estranged daughter Jane Saunders’ (Taylour Paige) life. Now a criminal defence lawyer, Jane has a strained relationship with her maverick father and isn’t pleased to see him hanging around.

Back in sunny Los Angeles amidst the palm trees, Axel reunites with his cop pals John Taggart (John Ashton), now promoted to Chief of Police, and eventually the kidnapped Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold). There’s also new blood in the form of Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Jane’s ex-boyfriend, who joins forces with Axel to investigate crooked police captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon).

Axel F bears the hallmarks of a sequel decades removed from its franchise’s heyday, only avoiding an attempt to pass the baton to a younger protagonist. However, it follows the beats of the 1984 original to some extent, including extensive use of the same needle drops (“The Heat Is On”) during action sequences. There are playful nods to familiar situations along the way (Axel is again stung by the extortionate room rates of Beverly Hills hotels), although some draw amusing comparisons to how things have changed in four decades.

However, most of these callbacks will go unnoticed by anyone new to the franchise. It’s hard to see why those unfamiliar with Beverly Hills Cop would start here, or have any desire to watch it if they didn’t grow up during Eddie Murphy’s era of superstardom. And let’s be honest, even amongst those who did grow up with this trilogy, I don’t think anyone was clamouring for more Beverly Hills Cop.

The fourth Beverly Hills Cop film certainly isn’t an abomination compared to other attempts to reboot an old property, but it’s let down by a few things. The fish-out-of-water concept is entirely lost to time, partly because this is the third sequel, but mostly because American culture has changed so much that seeing a black police officer in affluent Beverly Hills is no longer unusual. And while Murphy looks fantastic for a man in his sixties, he can’t recapture the same anarchic energy he brought to the role in his twenties. (He doesn’t even do his signature ‘wheezy laugh’ once, which was very strange.) This modern Axel is more of a goofy eccentric.

The biggest mistake is the decision to pair Axel with his rather dull daughter, Jane, for much of the middle portion. One might expect the daughter of Axel Foley to be brimming with energy, reminiscent of her maverick father’s personality in some respects. However, Taylour Page portrays Jane too reservedly. Jane also harbours resentment about her childhood and Axel’s poor parenting, resulting in a persistently frosty atmosphere in most of their scenes together.

Even when their father-daughter relationship warms thanks to their shared experiences investigating this case, there’s no sense of enjoyment in watching them together. I understand why partnering 63-year-old Murphy with 76-year-old Ashton and 67-year-old Reinhold was avoided this time, but why wasn’t he given more scenes with Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Their memorable sequence together in a stolen police helicopter is one of the few moments that captures the manic energy this film mostly lacks.

Director Mark Molloy does a good job and makes the wise decision to film as much of this on real streets as possible, often with vehicles doing old-fashioned stunts with little perceptible CGI assistance.

The opening snow plow chase through nighttime Detroit is great fun, there’s a decent but brief pursuit in a tiny traffic control vehicle, and the aforementioned sequence of a helicopter flying low through the streets of L.A. evokes the feeling of a genuine $150M movie that required a lot of time, effort, and planning to capture on camera. And that’s not something we expect with Netflix originals, which often feel like they’re cranked out on sound stages because there’s a demand for weekly content drops so viewers perceive a value for money and don’t unsubscribe.

The bad news is all the vehicular action scenes are probably there because it means Murphy can sit down and idly turn a steering wheel while pulling funny faces out the window. He’s simply too old to do much else physically. A big assault on a mansion full of gun-wielding goons (echoing the first film’s ending) is noticeably shorter and requires far less from the original characters drawn together for the climax. However, I did appreciate them driving a large lorry through the front of the building for real. If nothing else, Axel F understands that audiences have been starved of the tactility of 1980s action films for too long.

The actual plot is difficult to care about, not least because it’s immediately obvious that Kevin Bacon (Footloose) is the villain. There seems to be a belief audiences aren’t here for a clever crime story with twists, turns, red herrings, double-crossings, and other things that could have elevated the film’s narrative. So they don’t even bother. The focus is on giving Murphy enough scenes to tap into his old persona by recycling the same routines—like his “white man talk” or impersonating weirdos to confuse marks.

Whilst not unwatchable, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F wasn’t worth the long wait. If they’ve had three decades to develop what we got here, an already rumoured fifth instalment won’t even have the nostalgia factor to lean on. Molloy stages a few impressive action sequences, it feels like a proper film they spent time making, Murphy doesn’t phone his performance in, and there are a few laughs to be found, but Beverly Hills Cop’s time is in the past.

USA | 2024 | 115 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Mark Molloy.
writers: Will Beall, Tom Gormican & Kevin Etten (story by Will Beall; based on characters created by Danilo Bach & Daniel Petrie Jr.)
starring: Eddie Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylour Paige, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot & Kevin Bacon.