Beverly Hills Cop : Axel F coasts by on formula but is still a lot of fun

I can’t be the only one to go onto Netflix this weekend and see the No. 1 movie in the world be a brand new Beverly Hills Cop movie as if that’s just a normal thing to happen. The long-gestating and often thought to be never-happening fourth film has finally been written, greenlit, cast, filmed, edited, and put out on the biggest streaming service in the world, which to me feels like a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, this Netflix release was due to Paramount Pictures signing a one-time license deal for the film during the COVID-19 pandemic, which they also did with various other films and TV shows at the time. It was a sensible business move at a time when there was no sense in guaranteeing the existence of cinemas. On the other hand, it’s a Beverly Hills Cop legacy sequel, a franchise that yielded some of the highest grossing films of 1984 and 1987, and is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, so one might expect a kind of Top Gun: Maverick resurgence here.

Nonetheless, Beverly Hills Cop IV is finally here, re-subtitled Axel F I guess for more audience recognition, and is essentially the same type of movie as the first two films, for better and for worse, but mostly better. The story finds Axel Foley back in Detroit at first, having moved back to his home city after the failure of his marriage and estrangement from daughter Jane (Taylour Paige). When friend and former partner Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) is captured while investigating a cop-killer case involving Jane, now a defence lawyer, Axel returns to Beverly Hills to find his friend, solve the case, and reconnect with his daughter.

As plots go, it’s rather by-the-numbers, such is the case for this franchise. No one really remembers in-depth details about the plots for these movies as they were born out of a time in movie-making where plot was the last thing on any producer’s mind. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer bankrolled dozens of productions based purely on simple, high-concept, low-concentraction, and ultra-impact stories using star power, advertisement directors, striking visuals, and A-list talent for soundtracks, and it worked well for a whole decade. Beverly Hils Cop: Axel F, like Top Gun: Maverick, goes back to this formula and mines it well enough to be entertaining, and focuses its energies in more refreshing areas.

Chief among them is Eddie Murphy’s star power, returning to this role for the first time in 30 years and 40 since the very first film that made him the star he is. As I said, it is weird to see such a once-crown jewel of U.S. box office making legacy sequels for streaming services today (see also but maybe don’t see Coming 2 America on Amazon Prime Video). Such is the state of the industry. What isn’t lacking, thankfully, is Murphy’s energy within the role, remaining just as charming, committed, and entertaining as ever, feeling natural in action scenes despite being over 60 at this point and sharp as ever with his comedy.

Surrounding Murphy is a pretty great crop of talent, from the returning Reinhold, John Ashton, and Paul Reiser (both actors weren’t in III), and new faces like Paige, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Axel’s “partner”, and Kevin Bacon as the bad guy. Reinhold, Ashton, and Reiser all slip back into their roles so neatly without drawing too many “I’m too old for this sh*t” jokes, and get just enough to do without feeling like distractions. Taylour Paige brings legitimate emotion to a character that could have easily become a one-note obligatory presence, making Jane feel like someone who can definitely stand her ground with her untenable father. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes for a fun and approachable counterpart to Axel, acting like a healthy mix of Rosewood and Taggart (Reinhold and Ashton), and Kevin Bacon cuts a cool slice out of the movie for himself as a coked-up corrupt cop in true ‘80s movie fashion

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F was at one point supposed to be directed by Bad Boys For Life and Ride or Die directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, but they left to make the now-cancelled Batgirl film. Personally, I was worried that any replacement director wouldn’t be able to match their trademark visual insanity, bringing to any project a true Bayhem and Tony Scott-inspired epic nature to action, but Axel F proved me wrong. Director Mark Molloy is still within that Michael Bay and Tony Scott vein, having made his mark directing acclaimed commercials for Johnnie Walker, Nissan, and Apple, and brings a similar visual and thematic energy that keeps this throwback action comedy chugging along nicely. The chase sequences and shootouts are shot with clean and intelligent geography, using sun-scorched colour-grading and efficient camera angles by Eduard Grau and the colour-timing team, and everything is underscored by truly exemplary score by Lorne Balfe. Balfe’s work honours the very best of Harold Faltermeyer, seamlessly blending themes from the first two movies, reviving classic hits by Glenn Frey, Pointer Sisters, and Bob Seger, while still giving it that Remote Control epic flavour that ties it all perfectly together.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F coasts by on formula, never breaking the bank too much, throwing enough modern twists on familiar tropes to feel fresh, but never feels insipid. The cause of this film’s existence may have been monetary, a new franchise instalment in an industry choked by them, but the effect is slick, simple, and effective in a total throwback fashion. It’s one of the rare legacy sequels, like Top Gun: Maverick, that benefits from a long gestation period, resulting in a movie that works in all the ways movies used to work. Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F gets enough right to stand on equal ground with the first two movies, forgets basically everything that made the third one a failure, but no-one can convince me that this shouldn’t have been put in theatres worldwide.

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