Review: Eddie Murphy Heads Back to California in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, a Nostalgia-Heavy Cop Comedy

I sometimes feel guilty about coming down on a film that hits all the nostalgia buttons and makes people feel good about the things they enjoyed growing up. But with movies like Top Gun: Maverick or Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the filmmaker's primary goal seems to be reminding you of what came before rather than crafting an original story with familiar characters, and that feels cynical and desperate. Perhaps the worst of these offenders is Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, which kicks off with a reprise of “The Heat Is On” and manages to toss in several more songs from previous BHC movies in the first hour, as well as the Axel F theme (in various iterations) throughout the entire movie.

The film begins in Axel Foley’s home town of Detroit, where Axel (Eddie Murphy, slipping effortlessly back into the role) is involved in a high-speed chase where he steals a snow plow and wrecks dozens of cars in the process. His chief (Paul Reiser, who played his partner in the first film) takes a fall for allowing Axel to keep his job, giving Axel his first realization that his actions have consequences beyond property damage. He gets word from his Beverly Hills stomping grounds that his daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), now a lawyer, has taken on the case of an alleged cop killer who Axel’s old buddy Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), now a private investigator, also believed was innocent and was about to prove so. A police captain named Grant (Kevin Bacon) seems determined to put the suspect away, and we immediately suspect him of hiding something relevant to this case.

Axel makes his way back to Beverly Hills, reunites with his estranged daughter, and while the two of them attempt to solve this asinine case, they also try to fix their broken relationship. Along the way, we run into familiar faces like John Taggart (John Ashton), the current police chief, and Bronson Pinchot’s strangely accented Serge. Axel gets help from a younger detective, Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who just happened to once date Jane (it’s such a small world). We also get one-scene appearances from former SNL cast member Nasim Pedrad as a manic real estate agent and Affion Crockett as a valet that refuses to help Axel just because they are both black. That moment leads to one of the film’s few impressive action sequences involving Axel and Bobby stealing a helicopter.

First-time feature director Mark Molloy does a serviceable job keeping Axel F moving and allowing Murphy enough room to improvise. In fact, Murphy’s throwaway lines are often funnier than the scripted jokes. There’s a joke in the snow plow chase that completely took me by surprise and gave me hope that the rest of the film might at least be funny, if not especially original. But simply throwing familiar music cues and actors at us for two hours isn’t enough to make this movie sing. The Beverly Hills Cop franchise was never a hotbed for creative plotting or character development, but at least we could count on Murphy to come up with a handful of zingers that made things feel electric. That electricity is missing from Axel F, and what does work only does so in small, short doses. It’s as if the film’s three (!) writers and newbie director figured out the bare minimum necessary to bring back this character and still did less than that. Not a complete failure, but hardly a worthy effort.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.