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‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Review: It’s Busted

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In “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F,” the Detroit detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is no longer the fast, young cop we last saw 30 years ago. The beleaguered Captain Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser) thinks the older and slower Axel should reconnect with his estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), who works as a defense attorney in Los Angeles. She is representing someone accused of killing a possible dirty cop. When masked men dangle Jane’s car with her inside from a roof, Axel, at the request of his longtime pal Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), comes to Los Angeles to find the culprits.

Murphy returns with the same Detroit Lions jacket, his familiar chuckle and his movie star grin. But there’s little to smile about in this painfully lackluster retread desperately trying to justify its own existence.

In his feature directing debut, Mark Molloy — who plied his trade making commercials — tries to imagine a world where Axel is no longer a beloved wisecracker. Jane hates Axel for abandoning her as a child. Her former flame, Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who later teams up with Axel, also thinks Axel’s penchant for public destruction is outdated. Axel’s ruminations on parenting and policing are short-lived in the face of the flashy Captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon), who seems to be actively impeding Axel’s investigation as a bemused Chief John Taggart (John Ashton) looks on.

Molloy’s film (streaming on Netflix) is a slog: The dirty cop mystery is half-baked; the visual effects are half-rendered; the action lacks any sense of physical space. In the opening scene, Axel’s attempt to stop a robbery in the Red Wings’ locker room becomes a shaky street chase with Axel in a snowplow and the robbers on bikes. Rather than film the scene as a cohesive shot, Molloy filmed the bikers and Murphy separately. The result is a scattered set piece without any visual cohesion.

The film’s editing lacks snap, making clear the demarcation between when “cut” and “action” were yelled. Sometimes Murphy will have an emotion in one shot that will totally disappear in another, undermining the dialogue’s give-and-go rhythm. More momentum is lost because of the casting. Murphy is a kinetic performer who usually hits his best notes when another equally able performer plays off him. But Gordon-Levitt is in an underwritten role and doesn’t have the zip to match Murphy’s zing. Paige is somehow worse. She either overplays the contentious father-daughter relationship or sleepwalks through scenes.

The best parts of this comedy return to classic bits, like Serge (Bronson Pinchot) and Axel reviving their verbal volley from the first movie, and reuse the franchise’s past soundtrack hits like “Shakedown” and “Neutron Dance.” The worst parts involve lazy allusions to better films. A climactic shootout in a mansion attempting to blend the gunfight from the first “Beverly Hills Cop” with “Scarface” is tedious and unremarkable. While this installment isn’t nearly as woeful as “Beverly Hills Cop III,” it doesn’t have the charm or energy of the first two films either. It’s a limp, desperate action comedy with few memorable moments.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F
Rated R for violence and language throughout. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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