Axel F’ Is an Enjoyable Retread

You can (justifiably) complain about the new Netflix movie’s flaws, or you can relax and groove on its recycled rhythms.
Photo: Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. was not created by an algorithm, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was. Co-written by Will Beall, co-writer of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, and Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, who wrote The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent together, this attempt to revive a franchise that has sat dormant for the past 30 years goes out of its way to incorporate all the familiar things from the original three films.

Less than a minute into the movie, released exclusively on Netflix, we hear the saxophone blasts of “The Heat Is On,” the Glenn Frey hit from the original Beverly Hills Cop. They are followed soon after by Bob Seger’s “Shakedown” from Beverly Hills Cop II and the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” echoing the first installment. In the opening montage, Eddie Murphy, still working his wide-as-a-superhighway grin as Detroit detective Axel Foley, cruises around his city as images of everyday people on the streets flash by, a blatant callback to the intro that kicked off the franchise.

The big set piece that follows — an attempted robbery at a Detroit Red Wings game that Axel is determined to foil — gets Axel in the usual trouble with his superiors. (Paul Reiser, reprising his role as Axel’s onetime partner, Jeffrey, is now chief.) Then Axel learns that two people he cares about are in potential danger in L.A.: his estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige of Zola), a criminal defense attorney representing a client who may have been framed by corrupt cops, and Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), Axel’s old buddy who’s also entangled in exposing the truth about the same cops. Faster than you can say Harold Faltermeyer, Axel is back in Beverly Hills, trying to solve a case that is 100 percent outside of his jurisdiction, seeing as how this man works in Michigan.

It’s the same plug-and-play plot structure used in the first three films, which is to say that Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. is pretty formulaic. But then again, all of the Beverly Hills Cop films are. What made the first two so successful — Beverly Hills Cop III is not canon in my world — is that they also functioned as delivery systems for Murphy’s charms as a total ham willing to freak out or speak in a parade of goofy voices for the sake of getting a laugh. Axel F. does that too, but more than anything, it’s a reminder of how fun it can be to watch a Beverly Hills Cop movie.

Despite its reliance on the familiar, Axel F actually is largely a good time, so breezy and insistent on not taking itself too seriously that you can’t even get mad when the dialogue occasionally sounds like it got pumped out by ChatGPT. “Goddamn it, Foley,” says John Taggart (John Ashton), now the chief of the Beverly Hills Police Department, during one of the many times Axel goes rogue. “Here we go again.” Goddamn It, Foley, Here We Go Again would have been a perfect title for this movie.

Murphy could probably play this role in his sleep, but he genuinely seems to be having a good time doing Axel Foley things again, like assuming false identities to get access to much-needed intel — “I’m Axel Foley, producer of the new Liam Neeson revenge thriller, Impound,” he tells an aspiring actor who works at an impound lot — and vamping for the camera by singing along with Mary J. Blige or unleashing that trademark smile when the moment calls for it. (The moment calls for it pretty often.)

Axel and Jane’s story line is steeped in contrivance. She harbors deep resentment toward him for caring more about his work than his own daughter, which, wow, I’ve never heard that one before. But Paige and Murphy manage to infuse their arguments and conversations with enough heart to make us believe their issues are real and unique to their relationship.

While the returning actors can ride comfortably on the waves of nostalgia that come with reprising their roles — in addition to Reiser, Reinhold, and Ashton, Bronson Pinchot pops in as Serge, the artsy guy with a thoroughly unidentifiable accent — the new additions to the Beverly Hills Cop universe fit in pretty seamlessly and give sturdy performances. That includes Paige as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Beverly Hills officer who teams up with Murphy; Kevin Bacon as a member of the force who oozes excessive slickness; and Luis Guzmán in a banger of a cameo as a drug dealer whose facial hair is a glittery shade of blue. The way he allows the line “I’m layered and I’m complex” to drip languidly off the end of his tongue is worthy of a standing ovation, even if you’re watching alone in your own living room.

In his feature directorial debut, Mark Malloy keeps things moving at a proper clip and demonstrates a commitment to staging car chases that destroy a truly absurd number of motor vehicles, yet another throwback to the ’80s and ’90s movies that first launched the series. He doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking as a filmmaker, but again, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is explicitly not trying to break new ground. It’s a retread that’s better than a lot of the retreads Hollywood is determined to beam into our pupils, and it’s yet another enjoyable adult action-comedy in a summer that has already given us two: The Fall Guy and Hit Man, another Netflix joint. You can justifiably complain about its flaws, or you can accept them, relax, and groove on its recycled rhythms.

As Taggart says in another wholly unoriginal line: “Jesus Christ, some things never change.” Axel F doesn’t want them to, and this movie is banking on the fact that Netflix subscribers don’t want that, either.

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