Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F review: Eddie Murphy’s much-hyped sequel fails to get with the times

Beverly Hills Cop, when it originally opened in 1984, became a box office hit and a surprise Oscar nominee by the grace of how well its fish-out-water, action-comedy schtick landed. Axel Foley, the Detroit detective transplanted to Los Angeles to solve his friend’s murder, was easy to root for because he was played by Eddie Murphy. Mid-transition from Saturday Night Live to Hollywood, Murphy carried the film with ease, buoyed by a laugh like a motor engine kicking into gear, and a grin so wide it rewrote the fabric of the universe to make everyone around him the butt of his grand joke – especially those of the white, moneyed society.

There’s only a whisper of that energy in its most recent sequel Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. The film has the confidence to poke fun at the franchise’s infamously bad third entry, yet comes to the table with nothing to prove, nothing to say, and nothing for Murphy to work with. It has landed at Netflix, with a bloated $150m budget, hot on the tail of Bad Boys: Ride or Die (that film’s directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were originally attached here, before they were replaced by Mark Molloy). Bad Boys owes a large chunk of its existence to Beverly Hills Cop, and yet that franchise has succeeded in maturing where this one has certainly failed. A lot of it has to do with the simple acknowledgement that time has passed.

Here, Murphy’s renegade cop makes the same trip from Detroit to Los Angeles, this time to help his estranged lawyer daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), after she’s threatened for trying to expose corruption in the Beverly Hills Police Department. Kevin Bacon turns up in a crisp suit. It’s immediately obvious he’s the rotten one – and as proven by Ti West’s sleazy horror MaXXXine, Bacon can do these villain roles in his sleep.

So, what does Axel F have to say about the Beverly Hills of the 2020s? Not much. We get a shot of an influencer, a shot of a food delivery robot, and then four separate cutaways to different purse-sized dogs. Jane’s character only updates Axel F to somewhere around the mid-2000s when every female lead was po-faced and hyper-competent. Paige’s breakout performance in 2020’s sex work comedy Zola was sublimely funny, but all she gets to do here is vaguely allude to her dad’s incompetent parenting (we’re never given enough context to get invested).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Detective Bobby Abbott at least shares one inventive action sequence with Murphy. Brief but snappy, it involves a low-flying helicopter and a lot of the usual befuddlement from Axel’s superiors. Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, and Paul Reiser all return, but they’re kept at such a distance from Axel that most of their screen-time amounts to not much more than extended cameos. And when they are on screen, we’re sometimes forced to listen to them complain about how they’re no longer allowed to recklessly endanger people’s lives. “They don’t want swashbucklers out there anymore, they want social workers,” Jeffrey decries, and you can almost see the words “because of wokeness” silently dance across his lips.

While the newer Bad Boys films have delicately sidestepped the contemporary conversations around law enforcement, Axel F seems happy to offer up its protagonist as a figurehead for the active endorsement of police misconduct. I’d argue you could just let Harold Faltermeyer’s earworm of a theme song drown out that noise – but, alas, for a certain generation, that’s also been ruined by the crazy frog on the invisible motorcycle.

Dir: Mark Molloy. Starring: Eddie Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylour Paige, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot, Kevin Bacon. 15, 115 mins