‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Brings Eddie Murphy Back Into a Defining Role With Enough Sparks

Making another “Beverly Hills Cop” seems like a very risky proposition. The 1984 classic that made Eddie Murphy a major star is crackling entertainment with a special energy in the acting, plus subtle ‘80s satire that refreshes cop movie clichés. It was also nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The sequels were notoriously bad. “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” proves the original is unbeatable, but it’s also an improvement on its sequel predecessors. At 63, Murphy still has plenty of sparks left and acknowledges his character is now operating in a different world, while adding enough zest to make some of the weaker jokes work better than they should.

Axel Foley (Murphy) is still based in Detroit, busting heads and getting into trouble with his superior, Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser). The rowdy cop still likes to crack jokes and talk back, but he’s also haunted by his strained relationship with daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), a defense attorney in Los Angeles. She’s currently getting heat for defending a Latino accused of killing a cop. Jane is convinced it’s a set-up. When her life is threatened, Axel is alerted by old Beverly Hills police force buddy Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold). Axel drops back into L.A. and sees how much has and hasn’t changed. There’s Captain Grant (Kevin Bacon), who has heard the infamous Axel stories and insists Jane’s case is nonsense. No doubt there’s a bigger conspiracy afoot, and Axel will need to team up with Det. Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who also happens to be Jane’s ex-boyfriend.

While this is another glossy sequel with the Netflix seal, “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” is really another experiment in revamping a hit by mega action producer Jerry Bruckheimer. After the smash success of his “Top Gun: Maverick,” maybe Bruckheimer decided dusting off the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise wasn’t such a bad idea. Director Mark Molloy is tasked with sticking to the basic formula of a bare bones plot which allows Murphy and cast to grab more attention. Nostalgia is still the name of the game with composer Lorne Balfe bringing back Harold Faltermeyer’s original theme song. The opening scene has Axel driving through Detroit, still in a beaten up ride, to Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On.” But these are different times and Axel has fun going to a hockey game with a white detective who tries too hard to act woke (“I can do better, I will do better”). When Axel lands in L.A., again he cruises through Rodeo Drive, where the blondes still walk their expensive poodles. 

What made the other “Beverly Hills Cop” sequels subpar was the feeling no one knew what to do at all with the story. “Beverly Hills Cop II” had some stylish images thanks to director Tony Scott, but a muddled story involving bad cops running bad contraband, while “Beverly Hills Cop III” took Axel into an absurd scheme involving a theme park attempting to satirize Disneyland. “Axel F” does fall back into yet another round of deep corruption in the Beverly Hills police. The difference is the screenplay betters the material by having it revolve around Axel’s strained relationship with his daughter. We don’t know much about Jane’s mother (maybe it was Theresa Randle’s love interest from “Beverly Hills Cop III”), but it doesn’t matter. Murphy and Paige have a likable chemistry, with scenes that have genuine pain when Jane wonders why Axel was such an absent dad. It’s a welcome layer added to make Axel not just a jester. Some of the best jokesters tend to cover-up deep wounds with humor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is likewise given more to do than just being a token new character. He’s the ex who is both nice but too smothering for a woman like Jane.

If it weren’t for these story elements, “Axel F” would just cruise down its lane as another glossy Bruckheimer action distraction. There are still some absurd stereotypes brought out of the screenwriting lab, like tattooed Mexicans with no purpose other than shooting up Rodeo Drive. A better gag has Nasim Pedrad as an airheaded Beverly Hills real estate agent giving a tour of a mansion with perfect absurdist timing. Kevin Bacon clearly enjoys walking around with some goons, looking very corrupt and showing off his ill-gotten gains like a Rolex. Judge Reinhold and John Ashton return as Rosewood and Taggart, the two cops who befriended Axel in the ’84 original and appear in the other movies as well. Their presence is believable enough, such as Taggart now being the new chief. 

Murphy remains the glue holding it together. It’s been 40 years since the first movie, yet Axel still has his moments. Murphy brings back some of the tongue and cheek social comedy that was more in vogue in the ‘90s, like a hilarious moment where he tries to convince a valet to let him to take a car because he’s a “brother,” while the valet wonders if this guy realizes he can’t lose his job. “Axel F” may not be groundbreaking, yet it’s really more of a chance to let Murphy dabble back in some of his better content after some recent, odd choices like “Candy Cane Lane.” Eventually, the bad guys get shot up, Axel gives us that winning smile that ends every entry in the franchise, and Jane reconnects with her wacky dad. We don’t need a fifth movie. This one is a decent enough update before leaving the badge and gun at the office.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” begins streaming July 3 on Netflix.