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'Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.' Is a Watered-Down, Middle-Aged Version of Something We Once Loved

By TK Burton | Film | July 9, 2024 |

By TK Burton | Film | July 9, 2024 |


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It seems like there’s a bit of a resurgence of nostalgic film series continuations happening — look no further than the last two Bad Boys films to see the prime examples of this trend. It’s not necessarily a bad thing - for films so relatively recent but also still referenced as cultural touchstones, we’d rather see these franchises continue than be remade. 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop has had a fourth entry languishing on various studio shelves for few decades now — perhaps in no small part due to the series increasingly mediocre performance, both critically and financially (parts two and three simply never recaptured the magic of their predecessor).

Yet here we are 40 (!) years later, with the release of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F., the long-gestating return to the franchise that (along with Trading Places and 48 Hours) established Eddie Murphy as one of the great superstars of the 80s. This time around, Axel — still working the gritty streets of Detroit, still frustrating his superiors (including Deputy Chief of Police Jeffrey Friedman, reprised by Paul Reiser), when he gets a call from his old friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), informing him that his daughter Jane (Taylour Page) may be in danger. Axel quickly makes for sunny Los Angeles and is promptly embroiled in a mystery involving a murdered cop, a cartel, and all manner of bad guys. He also runs into Rosewood’s former partner and now Chief of Police John Taggert (John Ashton) and a straightlaced young detective named Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

What follows is a familiar series of events — car chases, shootouts, wisecracks, and impersonations, all wrapped around a story that isn’t particularly compelling. There’s a mysterious villain that we can identify almost immediately, and the paper-thin conflict between Axel and Jane (whose mother is never even mentioned by name, curiously). There’s a series of inevitable throwbacks to the earlier films peppered throughout Axel F., including the reappearance of Bronson Pinchot’s strange Serge. With all that familiarity, there comes a peculiar kind of comfort — the film gives off a similar vibe that audiences may have felt with The Force Awakens — the kind of different-but-the-same sensation that makes you realize that what you’re watching is a sort of kindhearted, nostalgic manipulation.

Yet that’s also the film’s greatest failing — while there’s comfort to be found there, there’s little more than that sense of déjà vu, as if you’re simply watching an updated version of the same stories. Say what you will about the Bad Boys franchise, but at least they move forward with their characters instead of simply playing the same tapes again and again. In Axel F., there’s not even a real sense that time has passed — it’s the same fish-out-of-water story in the same city with the same characters. Aside from some wrinkles - both literal and metaphorical - and an adult daughter, it’s barely evident that it’s been four decades since the first film.

Axel F. isn’t bad — Murphy can still hit the comedic beats when he needs to and we get to see some solid dad humor mixed in. Ashton and Reinhold are fun to watch, first-time film director Mark Molloy can shoot a solid action scene, and the supporting cast gamely moves the film along. But it’s also not enough. It covers no new ground, exploits the same jokes and character foibles, and despite its 120-minute runtime, never gives us anything more than the sense that we’re watching a watered-down, middle-aged version of something we once loved. Axel F. isn’t going to be celebrated as a return to greatness for the franchise, nor is it something for the nostalgia defenders to get enraged over. It’s the cinematic equivalent of the great parental critique — I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.