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New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

By Eric Hillis,

originally published: 07/09/2024

New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

1980s Hollywood was fuelled by a simple formula, the "fish out of water." Whether it be an alien landing in the suburbs; a boorish, middle-aged Jewish comic attending college; or a young boy finding himself in the body of Tom Hanks; audiences lapped this stuff up. With 1983's fish out of water comedy Trading Places, director John Landis moulded Eddie Murphy into the '80s equivalent of Groucho Marx. Just as the Jewish Marx had done in the '30s, the African-American Murphy built his shtick around mocking wealthy white people. The movie that cemented this status was 1984's Beverly Hills Cop, in which Murphy played Axel Foley, an unfiltered Detroit undercover cop who found himself in the alien surrounds of that American centre of white elitism, Beverly Hills. The plot - something, something corruption, or something - was irrelevant. Audiences turned up to see Murphy crack wise, do funny voices and take the piss out of rich folk, and he did so with a unique and natural ease that no comic performer has matched in the decades since.

By the time Landis and Murphy reunited for 1994's terrible second sequel Beverly Hills Cop III, they were no longer the rebellious and acerbic young Jewish and Black disruptors of the early '80s; now they were just two out of touch rich dudes. In 1994, Murphy stepping back into the role of Foley felt like cosplay, like a multi-millionaire 60-year-old Roger Daltrey trying to sing 'My Generation' without irony. If it was unconvincing in 1994, how cringe-inducing will it be a full 30 years later?

New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

Any doubts that Murphy may not be able to pull this off now are immediately dismissed. When we see him clad once again in the famous varsity jacket, blue jeans and Adidas trainers we're fully onboard. He's managed to pull off the Springsteen trick of getting away with wearing working class duds despite owning more houses than most of us own socks. There was a while there when Springsteen couldn't pull this off either, but then his face started to get craggy and he suddenly looked like someone who actually had spent his life working in New Jersey steel mills. The same has happened to Murphy now. Gone is the preened and pampered Murphy of the '90s, replaced by a man who while looking great for a sexagenarian, looks like he's lived, who has taken a few knocks, whose wealth hasn't protected him from the passage of time and all it takes from us. As a working class kid in the '80s, Murphy was my favourite movie star because he felt like one of us, at least until he was no longer one of us. Four decades later he may have riches I can only dream of, but Murphy is once again relatable.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F plays up this relatability from the off, opening with a sequence in Foley's hometown of Detroit, no better symbol of past glories and hard knocks. Adhering to cop movie logic, a sixty-something Foley is still working the streets, idolised by the younger men on the force and still aggravating his superiors, the latter represented by Paul Reiser returning as Jeffrey, now a police chief. A chase sequence involving a snowplough instantly pulls us into the film's '80s and '90s influenced world with Foley making jokes as city blocks are demolished and throbbing synths ruffle our speaker grills. Oh, how we've missed such simple pleasures over the last couple of superhero dominated decades.

Foley winds up back in Beverly Hills when his estranged lawyer daughter Jane (Taylour Paige) is threatened to drop the case of a young gang-banger who appears to have been framed for murder. Judge Reinhold's Billy is now a private detective who has disappeared while attempting to collect evidence to support Jane's case. John Ashton's Taggart is now the Beverly Hills chief of police, despite being 108 years old. The movie wastes no time in establishing the villain as crooked police captain Grant (a shit-eating Kevin Bacon), who suspiciously can afford a Rolex on a cop's salary.

New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

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As with every other instalment, the plot is meaningless, simply a vessel for Eddie Murphy to be Eddie Murphy. It's a little different now though, as many of the comedic targets of the earlier instalments are now recognised as cheap shots. Where earlier movies in the series played on the underlying bigotry of those whom Foley encountered, here his own prejudices are examined. Any attempts Foley makes to mock younger generations are quickly shut down by Jane and her ex-lover cop Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The series' hitherto most problematic character, Bronson Pinchot's Serge, once the butt of cheap homophobic jokes, returns and is dealt with in a commendable fashion; Serge hasn't changed, but we have (well, most of us), and the character is now for us to laugh with rather than at.

The man out of time who can't relate to his daughter is a tired cliche but Murphy and Paige make the dynamic work. When Foley wisecracks with his daughter, Murphy makes it clear that it's a defence mechanism, and Paige is very good at selling the frustration she feels towards him. There's a moment when the camera briefly lingers on Foley's face after a particularly hurtful comment from Jane, and Murphy plays it like a man whose entire life of regrets has just flashed before his eyes.

New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

While there's a surprising amount of pathos here, it's interwoven organically with the action and comedy. One of the things that made the first two movies in this series work so well was how they channeled the spirit of the Abbot & Costello Universal monsters movies. Foley might have been a wise-cracking clown but he was placed in genuinely dangerous situations, and he was the only one who wasn't taking it seriously. The villains of those films weren't comedy villains, they were action movie villains who would have been just at home in a Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood thriller. Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F understands this, and when the action hits it's old school violent action, with a classic squibfest finale in a mansion whose white walls are streaked with the blood of dozens of mullet-haired bad guys.

It's not all successful. While Lorne Balfe's score manages to seamlessly update Harold Faltermeyer's iconic synths, the rehashing of songs from the original soundtrack (The Heat is On, Neutron Dance) comes off as an unnecessarily cloying attempt to generate nostalgia. There's one very funny gag involving a rich white lady and her tiny dog, but there are also about seven unfunny gags involving rich white ladies and their tiny dogs. But these are minor quibbles. For the most part, like Creed and Top Gun: MaverickBeverly Hills Cop: Axel F has pulled off the tricky assignment of maintaining the spirit of a much-loved original while moving it forward and inviting a new generation into the fold. I never thought I'd be saying this in 2024, but I'm eagerly awaiting Beverly Hills Cop 5.

New Release Review - "Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F"

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is on Netflix

Directed by: Mark Molloy

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylour Paige, Kevin Bacon, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot

Eric Hillis is a film critic living in Sligo, Ireland who runs the website

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