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‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ is Eddie Murphy’s Best Film in Years

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It’s been a long time coming (thirty years, to be exact), but a new Beverly Hills Cop movie has finally graced our screens. Unfortunately, audiences won’t get a chance to reunite with Eddie Murphy‘s Axel Foley on the big screen, as Netflix would instead prefer to bring this $150 million megablockbuster straight into our living rooms. Of course, they were the only studio who were willing to finance and make the picture, but seeing the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer logo on my television instead of an IMAX screen felt much less powerful than when seeing Bad Boys: Ride or Die last month (which was a predictable box office hit).

It’s also been a while since Eddie Murphy made something with substance. Beyond the passable Coming 2 America, Murphy’s late-stage career has seemingly gone through the motions with easy, but unimpressive, turns in films like Candy Cane Lane, You People, and Mr. Church. His latest appearance as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F feels like a true return to form to Murphy’s greatest hits as the iconic police detective, who returns to the City of Angels after receiving a concerning phone call from his friend Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) concerning his estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), a defense attorney.

The two haven’t been on speaking terms in some time but will have to put their differences aside to uncover a criminal conspiracy involving corrupt police officers hunting her down for defending an alleged killer she believes is innocent. It’s a relatively straightforward story that goes through the motions of a typical Beverly Hills Cop picture, starting out in Detroit with an extended chase sequence until an inciting event in Beverly Hills forces Axel to return. The villain is usually found in plain sight, and it doesn’t take long for them to begin hunting down Axel as he gets close to uncovering the truth.

Eddie Murphy has not lost his touch as Axel Foley

Even with such a rudimentary plot that isn’t so much elevated by its half-baked visual style (more on that later), there isn’t a single moment involving Murphy’s Axel Foley that doesn’t feel fun to watch. What’s particularly interesting about Murphy’s current approach to the detective is how he is in complete denial that he isn’t the same as he was forty years ago, even if he’s reminded of this by his superior, Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser) and his friend John Taggart (John Ashton). He almost doesn’t want to grow old for fear that he’ll have to eventually face life’s challenges, as this lingering thought constantly bites him in the ass.

But there is a change in his behavior, whether he believes it or not. He’s tired of doing the same improvisational schtick he’s been doing for over forty years (as aptly shown in a hotel scene where a worn-out Foley drops his act and concedes to getting a room at full price), and he’ll soon learn of that fact by not only reuniting with his daughter but on pursuing his mission with a younger detective, Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Sure, he’s still the same Axel we know and love in scenes with Serge (Bronson Pinchot) or whenever he bickers with hotshot police captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon), but something is changing, whether he wants to face it or not.

In playing with these layers, Murphy gives his most complex turn as Foley yet. His comedic timing is pitch-perfect, but he continuously peers through the most vulnerable aspects of the detective in ways that were only briefly hinted at in the last installment (with the death of Gil Hill‘s Todd) but are now fully realized through his moving (distant) relationship with his daughter. He’s desperately trying to make amends, while Jane (justifiably) pushes him away.

Taylour Paige also shines as Foley’s daughter, measuring up to Murphy’s genius in more ways than one, sometimes even out shadowing him in several scenes that require the detective’s classic quick wit (one even dares reference The WachowskisJupiter Ascending as a joke, and it works).

Eddie Murphy reunights with John Ashton and Judge Reinhold for Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. (Netflix)

It also felt great to see Murphy banter with Reinhold and Ashton as Rosewood and Taggart, even if the former is sidelined for most of the picture. But when Rosewood tells Foley, “God, I missed you, Axel,” as they are caught in a high-speed chase between themselves and the police (while Lil Nas X‘s “Here We Go,” an early contender for best original song of the year, plays), it’s impossible not to have a massive grin on your face.

Even winks at previous installments, which could’ve felt terribly egregious in the hands of a filmmaker who doesn’t truly love the franchise, feel completely in line with Axel’s behavior since he thinks he hasn’t changed. So when Serge shows up for an extended cameo, the two do their classic “Get the f– outta here!” “No, I cannot!” bit, it’s as funny as it was in the 1984 installment.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F lacks in cinematic impact

While Eddie Murphy‘s iconic return as Axel Foley keeps us invested for most of the runtime, one can’t say the same about Mark Molloy‘s direction. Making his feature directorial debut, Molloy was hired as a replacement for Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who left the project to focus on helming Batgirl, which was ultimately shelved by Warner Bros. Discovery in 2022.

While Eduard Grau‘s cinematography achieves a near-perfect emulation of Tony Scott‘s aesthetic in Beverly Hills Cop II (which remains the best of the franchise, to which composer Lorne Balfe takes the time to celebrate by adding Harold Faltermeyer‘s Adrianos during a shootout), one can’t say the same for how the film’s centerpiece action set pieces are directed.

There are several impressive practical stunts and camera positions, putting it on top of police sirens, guns, helicopters, and even a meter cart for the film’s funniest chase. However, the blocking of action in other instances is strange, preferring to hide the frame rather than fully showcase what’s going on, instead of what Tony Scott did when helming the second installment.

The result, unfortunately, hinders its cinematic presentation. We can never properly see the action, whether a close combat gunfight constantly putting Axel, or a large object, in the middle of the camera’s horizon, while the baddies are on the side of the frame. There’s a very minimal understanding of the kinetics of an action scene, even if Molloy seems to have gone to the Guy Ritchie school of putting the camera on everything.

Even the final shootout is underwhelming, with unnatural blocking never allowing us to appreciate a kill performed by any of the protagonists, as violent as they can be. The only great action set piece occurs as Axel and Abbott escape Grant’s custody by flying a helicopter, and it only works because of Murphy and Gordon-Levitt‘s incredible chemistry (alongside the most surprising cameo I’ve seen in a Hollywood picture this year).

Some of the helicopter movements are impressive to witness practically, but Molloy always insists on filming everything in the middle of the frame instead of taking advantage of the wide aspect ratio, as director John Landis did not do in Beverly Hills Cop III. This would not have been a problem if Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah had stayed in the director’s chair, but they unfortunately did not know what fate their Batgirl movie would await (yet they went on to helm the incredible Bad Boys: Ride or Die instead, so that’s a win).

Final thoughts on Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Beyond what I’ve said, however, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F should be considered a success, not only for reinvigorating the franchise after the failures of the third installment but for Eddie Murphy‘s film career, which has not been up to par lately. He delivers his best performance as Axel Foley and, in turn, makes this comedy his best since Frank Oz‘s Bowfinger.

Yeah, it’s been some time…but God, does it feel good to see him don his iconic Detroit Lions jacket and peruse the streets of Beverly Hills in full-on detective mode. I only wish to have seen this legendary return on the big screen.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F streams on Netflix on July 3 . Let us know what you think of the movie later this week on social media @mycosmiccircus!

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