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‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ review: Eddie Murphy is back in action, and that rules

Beverly Hills Cop 4 is a terrible idea on paper. Sure, the 1984 action-comedy and its sequel Beverly Hills Cop II were massive hits, proving Saturday Night Lives Eddie Murphy had made the leap to leading man. But 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III was a flop with critics and audiences, effectively knocking the franchise out of commission for 30 years. On top of that, the funny franchise’s conceit is now potentially problematic: A cocky cop solves crime while cracking rude jokes and breaking all the rules. With countless news headlines about police brutality and insensitivity, how do you bring back Axel Foley for a modern audience? Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is how. 

I myself was deeply dubious about the possibility of a Beverly Hills Cop 4 being anything but groan-inducing. So, it is with great pleasure that I tell you I was wrong, and Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is outstanding. 

Eddie Murphy is as good as ever as Axel Foley. 

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. (Featured L-R) Bria Murphy as Officer Renee Minnick and Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix

Axel still knows how to outfox crooks and land a punchline. Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F proves this efficiently with a rousing opening sequence at a hockey arena. Sitting with a white colleague, Axel talks hockey with the irreverent jokes that play to his signature speedy patter. The difference here is that this Axel only punches up, mocking white fragility instead of employing tired stereotypes. Rather than feeling like a compromise in fear of so-called cancel culture, these jokes support the undercurrent of his journey. Axel has always pushed back on power structures, be it wealthy white men who felt they were above the law or police commissioners who felt public relations was more important than public safety. So it makes sense that as he grows older, his humor grows toward bolstering this previously established ideology. 

Screenwriters Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etten set up the pins with this sharp self-awareness, and Murphy knocks them down with the brute force of that trademark smile and expert comedic timing. Five minutes into Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, I was already grinning ear to ear, and there hadn’t even been any action yet. Incredibly, the screenwriters have a sophisticated strategy for this too. 

In many action movies featuring aging stars, awkward cuts are employed to avoid showing how their bodies or their mobility may have changed, but Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is too smart to be slowed down. The 63-year-old Murphy isn’t going to be running around like he did three decades ago, so the screenwriters came up with a clever and comedic accommodation: commandeering increasingly ridiculous vehicles. Axel leaps from snow plows to meter maid trolleys to helicopters, and each setup isn’t a dodge but an opportunity for visual gags — like being maced by a meter maid. Plus, each of these choices reaffirms how Axel still thinks on his feet. Lucky for us, Murphy’s not the only one radiant in their return. 

Axel F reunites us with Paul Reiser, John Ashton, Judge Reinhold, and Bronson Pinchot. 

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F - Bronson Pinchot as Serge in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

The premise of this fourth installment follows a familiar framework: An unsolved crime puts one of Axel’s loved ones in trouble, pulling him to Beverly Hills to investigate on his own. This cozy setup allows for Reiser, Ashton, and Reinhold to reprise their role as Axel’s embattled cop buddies. The former two have risen through the ranks and are now the desk-bound blowhards Axel rails against. Meanwhile, Billy (Reinhold) is a private detective who is chasing a lead that leads to him going missing. 

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The nostalgic thrill of seeing this band back together is undeniable. Ashton is once more gruff but lovable, Reinhold sweet with a twang of chaos, and Reiser practically radiates with a tooth-gritting affection, even as Axel gives him hell. But the return that had me literally squealing with excitement is Bronson Pinchot as Serge. The unexpected breakout character has grown to be more than a cheap gag about a certain brand of flamboyant LA man. 

Director Mark Molloy has laced in terrific montages that deftly establish the luxurious lunacy of Los Angeles, including a pearl-wearing dog being hand-fed sushi at an outdoor eatery. But Serge is a celebration of all this absurdity rolled into one loud, beloved package with plenty of panache. Pinchot’s inexplicable accent and crackling comedic chemistry with Murphy makes for one of the movie’s funniest sequences, aided by Nasim Pedrad as an over-sharing real estate agent. Here, the energy in a garish mansion has a spontaneity that turns the silly scene into a tennis match, with jokes coming so hard and fast you might be left breathless from laughing. But Pedrad is not the only new addition making her mark on Axel F. 

Taylour Paige and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ground Axel F‘s crucial dramatic arc. 

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F - (L to R) Joseph Gordon Levitt as Detective Bobby Abbott and Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix

Amazingly, what sets this fourth movie apart is a plotline that sounds achingly cliche: Axel comes to the aid of his grown child, who is facing deadly criminal forces in pursuit of justice. But far from some sloppy attempt to hand the franchise off to a younger generation, the screenwriters introduce Jane (Taylour Paige), Axel’s defense attorney daughter who is working pro-bono for an alleged “cop-killer.” The tension between this cop dad and his public defender daughter often runs at a high pitch — a weakness that’s played like a fiddle by Axel’s antagonist, a slick and snarling LA cop (Kevin Bacon). But what’s most moving about this is not their ideological differences but the father-daughter frustrations that are almost achingly common. 

Where Axel might be the best when it comes to finding clues, he’s clueless with how to reconnect to his estranged daughter. Instead of playing her role as a pale imitation of Murphy’s iconic character, Paige lays out a headstrong heroine of her own — one whose soft spot is her dad. Arguments over who’s to blame for the distance between them are charged in authenticity, recognizing not only the careless ways family members can wound each other but also the difference in how millennials and their boomer parents communicate about feelings. Where Axel is quick with a joke, Jane is unblinkingly direct, as is her ex-boyfriend, a young detective (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who calls Axel out with a firm yet empathetic tone. 

Where the villain of this movie will snark about how the “current landscape” is a place where you can’t say anything anymore, these characters all prove it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters. And it’s frankly exhilarating to see a comedy nail this distinction while still being incredibly funny. Better yet, these new kids on the block aren’t treated as finger-wagging nags in regards to the movie’s action or comedy. While they often play the straight man to Axel, Paige and Gordon-Levitt shine alongside him, whether glowering at an enemy or giving a sheepish reaction that is laugh-out-loud funny. 

All this comes together piece by piece, forming a cleverly constructed sequel that manages to plumb the best bits of the original trilogy while working in new elements that give it renewed life and relevance. Even the soundtrack does this, mixing in classic rock tracks like “The Heat Is On” and “Shakedown” with newer jams like Coi Leray’s “Players” and Lil Nas X’s movie theme “Here We Go!” The combination of all this makes for a movie that is classically fun but freshly exciting. 

In the end, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F isn’t just a great sequel, or an awesome action-comedy, it might just be the most entertaining movie of the year. If you can see it in a theater, do it. If you — like most of us — watch it at home, turn up the volume, so that theme song swallows you up and welcomes you back to the world of Axel Foley and friends. 

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F premieres on Netflix July 3 and in limited theaters.

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