Eddie Murphy in Netflix Sequel 5

There are a few valid reasons to make a sequel four decades down the track from an action-comedy blockbuster that left an indelible pop-cultural imprint: 1. A smart script with a completely fresh take on a formulaic genre. 2. Writing that digs into the ways an iconic character known for his rule-breaking irreverence adjusts to the social shifts of a different century. 3. New technology that allows for more explosive thrills. 4. The nostalgia of audiences for whom the original holds enduringly fond memories. 5. Lil Nas X agrees to write and perform a song, spinning rap verses around synthmeister Harold Faltermeyer’s catchy theme tune.

Sauntering along 30 years after the third installment opened to scalding reviews and underwhelming grosses, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F justifies its existence only with points 4 and 5. Which will likely be enough to satisfy diehard fans. Directed with journeyman efficiency by first-timer Mark Molloy and written by a committee that follows the template to the letter, this Netflix feature remains entirely stuck in its ‘80s conception.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

The Bottom Line

The heat is off.

Release date: Wednesday, July 3
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylour Paige, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot, Kevin Bacon
Director: Mark Molloy
Screenwriters: Will Beall, Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten

Rated R,
1 hour 55 minutes

That much is evident even from the poster, which not only returns to the basic elements of the key art for Beverly Hills Cop (dude, gun, car), along with the embellishments for the 1987 sequel (palm trees against a vibrant Hollywood sunset), but also looks like it was designed back then, down to the last airbrushed detail. No trace of the more stylized graphics in the poster for Beverly Hills III, which is in line with this chapter’s general policy of forgetting that franchise death rattle ever happened, aside from a single sly reference.

The first Beverly Hills Cop broke new ground. Having made the jump from standup and Saturday Night Live, Murphy was hot off 48 Hrs. and Trading Places but had yet to carry a film as a solo lead. Martin Brest’s buoyant direction and a script by Daniel Petrie Jr. that knew exactly how to showcase the motor-mouth comic’s gifts — making ample space for his improvisational skills — cemented Murphy’s ascent to superstardom.

With a global haul of $316 million, it disproved the widespread belief that major releases led by Black actors had no muscle at the international box office. The film established the mold for buddy cop action-comedies and paved the way for another decade-defining franchise anchored by a loose-cannon detective prone to running right into danger and leaving wreckage in his wake, Lethal Weapon.

But legacy can only take you so far. The closest thing to innovation that screenwriters Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have come up with is the introduction of a sentimental strain of family friction, with estrangement predictably leading to accountability and warm reconciliation. The rest is a strictly routine pileup of car crashes, shoot-outs and wisecracks.

Even in this later stage of his career, Murphy has demonstrated his screen-acting chops and charisma when he’s given a sturdy script, both in comedy (Dolemite Is My Name) and drama (Dreamgirls). He’s still naturally funny, but without strong writing, he often leans into lazy shtick, which only seems like a three-dimensional performance because Bronson Pinchot’s once-hilarious shtick as swishy Euro queen Serge is so painful.

The movie opens with Murphy’s Axel Foley back in his native Detroit, cruising through a town he knows like the back of his hand to Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.” That track — along with The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” and Faltermeyer’s theme — is reprised from the original, while other hits from that decade are added, including Bob Seger’s “Shakedown” (heard in Beverly Hills Cop II) and Billy Idol’s “Hot in the City,” the latter in a mashup with a Coi Leray rap. No one can accuse this film of not being true to the spirit of its progenitor, which again will be a big plus for nostalgists.

Axel’s antics have gotten him kicked off a case tracking a crime ring of murderous thieves, so he manipulates gullible junior colleague Mike Woody (Kyle S. More) into taking the lead when a robbery is going down at an ice hockey game. But not before a few gibes about interracial dynamics. Mike, who is white, confesses his surprise that a Black man is into ice hockey and Axel makes him squirm over his stereotyping assumption. Axel mimics his stammering apology, but he’s quick to clarify that Mike doing the reverse would be “wildly offensive.”

Neither the script nor the actors make too much of this bit and a little more of this cultural repositioning of Axel might have given the movie a more contemporary edge. Mostly, the scene serves as a prelude to signature Axel mayhem as he pursues the criminals behind the wheel of a snow-plow truck, destroying enough private and city property to infuriate his supervisor, Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser), who has one foot out the door to retirement.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Axel’s estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), a criminal defense attorney at a high-powered Beverly Hills firm, takes on the pro bono case of low-level drug mule Sam Enriquez (Damien Diaz), whom she believes was framed as a cop killer. When masked thugs give her a violent warning to drop the case, Axel’s old BHPD buddy Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who’s now off the force and working as a private detective, calls to let his pal know his daughter is in danger. Billy feels responsible, having persuaded Jane to take the case; Axel is on the next flight to L.A.

The other BHPD crony who served as straight man, along with Billy, to wise-ass Axel in the first two films, Sgt. John Taggart (John Ashton), has returned from retirement, mainly to get time away from his nagging wife. But both Ashton and Reinhold are peripheral presences, giving Murphy few opportunities to bounce off them.

When Axel hits town like a wrecking ball, he’s forced to deal with a new breed of cop, Det. Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s too smart to let the Detroit maverick’s mockery get under his skin. Axel also is introduced to slick narcotics division captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon), whose impeccably tailored suit, Gucci shoes and whopping gold Rolex do not look like the fruits of a police department salary.

Threaded in among action set-pieces like Axel leaving a trail of destruction as he careens along Rodeo Drive in a parking enforcement buggy or steals a police helicopter nervously piloted by Bobby is the spiky family drama between Axel and Jane. She just wants him out of town, refusing to forgive him for abandoning her after he divorced her mother. He’s reluctant to acknowledge any shortcoming in his parenting history, but of course, a few brushes with death at the hands of cartel killers and crooked cops will change that.

Paige (so fabulous in Zola) classes up the movie, making Jane’s hurt deep-rooted and real, and she has sweet chemistry with Gordon-Levitt’s Bobby, an ex with whom she ended things abruptly. Audiences willing to let their affection for the property convince them that this is a return to form might find that the father-daughter thread gives the movie some heart, bolstered also by suggestions of rekindled romance when Bobby risks his position to side with Axel and Jane.

But the shortage of fresh perspective, the absence of excitement and the slavishness with which the filmmakers stick to the original formula in one unimaginative action sequence after another makes the sequel seem past its expiration date. Some suspense in the scramble to uncover the true culprits in the Enriquez case would have been welcome. But the lead villain is in plain sight from his very first appearance and the rules of the franchise dictate that there can be only one outcome, no matter how many shots are fired.

While Murphy coasts along on charm, his material is just not sharp enough to generate big laughs. The fun in 1984 of a fish-out-of-water Black cop getting endless amusement from uptight bougie white folks in a city that reeks of insular wealth and entitlement just seems old hat now. Especially when the targets are as easy as an outraged Beverly Hills matron clutching a chihuahua named Manolo; a blissfully shallow real estate broker cooing over the vulgarity of an opulent gated mansion; or a snooty maître d’ attempting to keep Axel and his Detroit Lions bomber jacket out of a swanky private club.

Murphy’s big personality makes Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F better than a lot of Netflix features and he seems at least slightly more engaged than he was in Beverly Hills Cop III. The movie also has real L.A. location shooting on its side. But that doesn’t stop it from feeling like something recycled out of 40-year-old ideas. If you’re fine with that, enjoy. Murphy and producer Jerry Bruckheimer reportedly are developing a fifth movie in the franchise, so chances are there will be more to come.

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