Home » Eddie Murphy is back as Axel Foley, but this sequel is standard issue

Eddie Murphy is back as Axel Foley, but this sequel is standard issue

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“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” is the cinematic equivalent of trying on your prom suit from 1984. Maybe it still fits, but not in the places it used to, and if you try to moonwalk, you’ll probably get a hernia.

Still, if you’re that desperate for a reunion with the characters from the Eddie Murphy action comedy and its two sequels, this belated fourth entry, premiering this week on Netflix, may push your generic nostalgia buttons. In cast, soundtrack, dialogue and plot, “Axel F” is a photocopy of the original movies, only with everyone looking 40 years older. When they talk about films being “content,” this is what they mean: pure product. “Axel F” isn’t even bad. It just … is.

It starts, as it must, with a multi-car-crash chase scene, as Detroit police detective Axel Foley (Murphy) goes after motorcycle-riding robbers in a commandeered city snowplow. So far, so good. The scene shifts (as it must) to Los Angeles, where Axel’s estranged lawyer daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige of “Zola”), is working to free a client framed for a cop killing, abetted by Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who’s working as a private investigator after being kicked off the force for asking too many questions. Billy disappears, Jane is threatened by goons and Axel flies into town to set things straight.

But we didn’t come to the original “Beverly Hills Cop” or its increasingly dire sequels for the storylines. We came for Eddie Murphy. In 1984, he was fresh off “Saturday Night Live”; with “Cop,” he ascended to the top tier of pop stardom, after “48 Hrs.” (1982) and “Trading Places” (1983), on the strength of his infectious energy and a comic genius for tweaking White hostility and White guilt in a way that felt like the truth. That Eddie Murphy.

That Eddie Murphy shows up from time to time in “Axel F,” usually when Axel has to fast-talk his way into or out of a situation by pretending to be someone in a position of authority. (The joke, as always, is that Axel/Eddie knows a Black man needs credentials for doors to open in America, and he knows we know it.) But the clichéd script by franchise newcomers Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten plods along attending to the rift between father and daughter and to the conspiracy they’re uncovering, while the helming by Mark Molloy, a commercial director making his first feature, is focused mainly on the stunts and shootouts.

“Axel F” makes sure to bring on all the old characters: Bronson Pinchot’s marble-mouthed Serge, John Ashton’s weary Taggart, a briefly seen Paul Reiser as the hero’s former Detroit PD partner. All the old hits, too; Glenn Frey (“The Heat Is On”), Bob Seger (“Shakedown”) and the Pointer Sisters (“Neutron Dance”) will be thankful for the residuals. But the only time the new movie feels like its joints haven’t ossified is in a few scenes with L.A. oddballs like Nasim Pedrad’s ditzy real estate agent or Affion Crockett as a country club valet who’s not falling for Axel’s shtick. (Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a welcome new face as Jane’s ex-boyfriend, a Beverly Hills detective who gets pulled into the fray, but doesn’t he have better things to do?)

The finale is the standard demolition derby, with the standard armory of bullets, a standard slow-motion “Nooooo!” sequence and the standard speech where the villain (Kevin Bacon, hardly giving it his all) says to the hero: “You know, you and I? We’re more alike than you think.” (Axel’s response is a sensible “Do you ever listen to the stuff that comes out of your mouth?”) But “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” has already given away its game earlier on, in a scene where Axel tries to check into a ritzy hotel by pretending to be “Nigel Applebottom from Bon Appétit” but gives up halfway through his spiel. “You know what?” he says. “I’m too tired for this.” As are we, friend, as are we.

R. Available on Netflix. Contains language throughout, violence and brief drug use. 115 minutes.

Ty Burr is the author of the movie recommendation newsletter Ty Burr’s Watch List at tyburrswatchlist.com.

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