Beverly Hills Cop became the most successful cinematic showcase for Eddie Murphy’s talents, but it wasn’t designed for him. It was conceived as a straight-forward Sylvester Stallone vehicle, and it remained that way until just a few weeks before filming began, when Stallone dropped out and Murphy subbed in at the last minute.

The conceit wound up working better with Murphy than it ever could have with Stallone, because as an Eddie Murphy movie, Beverly Hills Cop’s text and metatext fell perfectly into sync. Instead of Stallone in yet another macho cop movie, BHC became Eddie Murphy in a Sylvester Stallone movie; he’s as much a fish out of water as Detroit cop Axel Foley is in Beverly Hills.

But the simple brilliance of that construction also became the inherent problem with every Cop sequel to varying degrees. You can never recreate that friction a second time. Eventually, every outsider becomes an insider. The fish out of water acclimates or dies (at least comedically, in the case of the disastrous Beverly Hills Cop III). The kernel of magic at the center of the original film proved irreproducible.

And yet there is something pleasurable about seeing Murphy as Axel Foley once again pestering and pissing off 90210’s snoodiest yuppies. And the advantage of taking so long to make a fourth Cop — it’s been 30 years since Beverly Hills Cop III bombed in theaters — is that Murphy does look like he’s back on unsteady ground again, if not in Beverly Hills, then at least in an R-rated action movie after years pumping out family-friendly comedies. Three decades later, the heat is kind of on again.

photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix © 2024
photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix © 2024

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And wouldn’t you know it, that same Glenn Frey song kicks off the opening credits of the new Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy is certainly older — he turned 63 back in April — but he still looks great and, more importantly, he looks happy to be back as Axel, the fast-talking detective from Detroit with an improbable knack for solving cases while causing enormous amounts of collateral damage. And in fact, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F opens with Foley getting into a massive chase through the streets of Detroit in a snow plow. The sheer amount of chaos would have slowed down any normal cop — but not Axel.

Instead, he winds up heading back to Southern California for the fourth time (or the fifth if you include that lost Beverly Hills Cop TV pilot), after he’s contacted by his old pal Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) about a case that involves Axel’s estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), who works as a defense lawyer. Axel finds his other old Beverly Hills cop buddy John Taggart (John Ashton) behind a desk supervising a new team of cops that includes the suave Captain Grant (Kevin Bacon) and no-nonsense Detective Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has a past with Jane and comes into conflict with Axel after he starts snooping around Abbott’s investigation.

A surprising amount of Axel F’s 115-minute runtime involves Axel and Jane trying to sort through their personal issues while they work together as de facto partners to try to clear the name of one of her clients. This subplot is also surprisingly disappointing. Axel and Jane supposedly haven’t spoken in years, but the script by Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etten keeps tiptoeing around the reasons for their estrangement (or even the identity of Jane’s mother, or why Axel was such a crummy father).

Even worse, there’s zero comedic tension in their scenes. Axel Foley never stops cracking jokes, assuming different personas, adopting wacky voices — except with his daughter, who is understandably annoyed by her dad’s appearance, but plays all their interactions tediously straight. It’s hard to square this serious woman as the daughter of Axel Foley; every time this subplot comes up, it drags the whole film down. I’m genuinely confused why anyone thought this was the best angle for a fourth Beverly Hills Cop.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Thankfully, the rest of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F — the parts that truly feel like a Beverly Hills Cop movie — work. The chases and shootouts are solid, especially that one with the snow plow, which is funny and exciting and really sets the movie’s tone right out of the gate. It’s great to see Reinhold and Ashton back together as Rosewood and Taggart, and Paul Reiser is even better as Axel’s perennial sidekick in the Detroit PD, Jeffrey Friedman. Murphy plays well off of Gordon-Levitt in their scenes too. (Bronson Pinchot’s cameo as Beverly Hills’ obligatory foreign weirdo Serge is mercifully brief.)

The script’s mystery plot is nonsense, but the mystery plot in every Beverly Hills Cop movie is basically nonsense. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for Eddie as Axel and in that realm, the film overdelivers. Murphy is really on his game; way more than I expected after 30 years. This is not Eddie Murphy in a Detroit Lions jacket sleepwalking his way through a big Netflix paycheck; it’s Axel Foley improvising his way through one crisis after another. That

And that’s fun. Mind you, it could be more fun; a better cop story and a more believable connection between Axel and Jane would have elevated Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F above the other sequels — because, again, this franchise was never well-built for sequels in the first place. (Even Beverly Hills Cop II is a so-so movie greatly assisted by Murphy’s million-watt star performance and Tony Scott’s ultra-stylish direction.) Still, a solidly good Beverly Hills Cop movie in 2024 is such a pleasant surprise it’s worth celebrating, possibly with a Neutron Dance.

RATING: 6/10

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