Sunday, July 21, 2024

‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Gets the Gang Together Again

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Despite being the 4th movie in a franchise and coming out almost thirty years after the last one, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is a lot of fun at least while you’re watching it. Afterward, memories of the good times begin to fade. But it’s a heck of a ride for about two hours, even if it hiccups from time to time.

Mark Molloy is in the director’s chair this time around. Axel F marks his directorial debut after years in commercials. If his first foray is any evidence he has a promising career in meat and potatoes blockbuster action. 

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Eddie Murphy is back as Detective Axel Foley, older, but still as mischievous.

For all its faults, Axel F, a name taken from Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic score for Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, is a blast from the past that has the good grace to try and address the present. Still, the script by committee, Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etten, stumbles between the action beats. Thankfully Eddie Murphy is in top form movie star persona and saves the film from sinking.

Axel F rounds up the old gang and sprinkles in some newcomers. Murphy is back as the fast-talking, quick-thinking, and authority-defying detective Axel Foley. Older but not necessarily wiser the Detroit detective finds himself drawn back to Beverly Hills to help out his estranged daughter Jane (Taylour Paige). 

Luckily Axel’s old police buddies are back again, only Taggert (John Ashton) is now the Cheif, and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) has quit to become a P.I. Much like the original Beverly Hills Cop, the mystery of Axel F is pretty straightforward. Kevin Bacon’s Captain Grant, head of the narcotics department, is instantly suspected by Axel as the man behind a murdered cop and the attempted frame job.

Axel F works less because of the script which puts in a lot of work to set pairings up and does little to follow through and more because, like Brest, Molloy understands that Murphy is a once-in-a-generation movie star. And, buddy, Murphy’s still got it. Murphy mines scenes for laughs without ever really mugging for the camera. There’s an effortlessness to Murphy that makes him all the more charming even as he flaunts the rules.

The scenes between Murphy and Paige are often funny, and sometimes tender, but the emotional payoff is often hobbled by the script’s clumsy bluntness. That Paige is even able to cobble together a character at all is somewhat of a miracle. The script repeatedly shoves her into a damsel in distress role. Regardless, Paige and Murphy strive to show how like her father she is smart, stubborn, and quick-witted, yet, she somehow constantly walks blindly into obvious traps.

Molloy’s direction is so busy trying to paper over the script’s flaws that it’s easy to miss how breathless the action is. Axel F has some of the best practical action stunts I’ve seen in a while. I mean it’s no Furoisa but it’s certainly better than whatever superhero sludge tries to pass off as action. It may not be the best movie of the summer but I can imagine the scenes such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Detective Bobby Abbot flying a helicopter with a panicking Axel would play like gangbusters in a packed house.  

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Axel (Murphy) tires to patch things up with his daughter Jane (Taylour Paige).

Or a shootout in downtown Beverly Hills that Molloy and Edu Grau’s camera expertly stage that would wow an audience looking for some blockbuster fun on a Saturday night. Another scene has Paige’s Jane trapped in a car as it’s pushed out of a parking garage.

Molloy and Grau’s camera puts us into the moment, and uses CGI sparingly, making these moments feel tactile. The screeching metal and flying bullets have weight to them and give Axel F that tint of danger and action. Grau’s camera also makes Axel F one of the better-looking Netflix movies, possibly because it wasn’t produced by them, but rather merely distributed. 

Either way, Axel F looks and moves with a polished zeal that matches Murphy’s movie star charisma.

Molloy and his trio of writers do a good job getting the gang back together. They hit the requisite callback beats while adding a modern flavor. Possibly the best example of this is Axel checking into the Beverly Hills Palms once again. He starts to spin another outlandish tale but gives up because he’s too tired. The clerk tells him the price, which is a few bucks shy of a thousand bucks a night, and he painfully smiles. “I love Beverly Hills.”

The politics of the modern landscapes force the writers to jump some hurdles with something less than grace. The biggest contortion is the way Taggart and Rosewood fall out over the notion of a conspiracy of dirty cops. Taggart refuses to believe it while Rosewood believes in it so much he turns in his badge. However, Ashton does a good job of showing why it’s hard for cops to believe in corruption within their own ranks, their friendships often clouding their judgment.

The initial drama between Axel and Jane is over her defending a cop killer. Axel is somewhat appalled. Jane claims that her Latino client is being framed. Her client’s uncle is Chalino Valdemor the leader of a local gang played by Luiz Guzman, turning in one of his more flamboyant appearances in a while. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much for Axel to believe his daughter. 

A lot has happened since Murphy last played Axel Foley, especially in regard to how we as an audience consume and regard stories about cops. In a scene that mirrors Axel’s arrest from the first Beverly Hills Cops, Axel finds himself, once again being arrested. Only this time when told not to move he responds with “I’ve been a cop for thirty years. But I’ve been Black for a lot longer. I know better.”

It’s a great line. But the problem is that it bumps up against Axel’s resistance to believe that cops might frame someone, or even kill one of their own.  Throughout Axel F there’s a sense of the writers dancing around the unfortunate copganda aspects of the first few Beverly Hills Cops. The line from the first movie, “Where I’m from cops don’t press charges against other cops,” feels less like an act of loyalty now and more like an acknowledgment of a culture of silence and complicity.  It doesn’t sink the movie but it is part of the reason why the film, while a fun ride, is a bumpy one.

Sadly, the script never goes for it. They pay lip service but little else. 

Molloy also misses some great chances for running bits. Bits like the comedic gold between Murphy and Gordon- Levitt. Bobby and Jane are ex-lovers, with Bobby being the opposite of Axel in his attitude towards the rules. The script has some ripe material dealing with the differences in generational masculinity and how Axel’s attempt to goad Bobby falls flat. Instead, the script reaches for the low-hanging fruit of “you had intercourse with my daughter”. 

It’s moments like these that show the franchise’s age. Still, I can’t deny smiling at seeing Paul Reiser return as Jeffery, Axel’s former partner, and now exasperated and put-upon chief. He’s called upon to deliver the requisite “We’re too old for this Axel,” monologue and does a fairly good job.

axel f
A familiar sight with Chief Taggart (John Ashton) and Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) sitting up front, and Axel (Murphy) in the backseat.

But the real scene stealer is Bronson Pinchot’s Serge. A one-off character from the first Beverly Hills Cop movie, he has become a fan favorite. Yet, as much as I love Serge the reason they give Pinchot so little to do that, like Paige, the fact that he’s able to mine what he does is impressive.

Lil Nas X’s Here We Go! acts as the theme for Axel F, and along with Lorne Balfe’s score reminds us that soundtracks used to be fun. Lil Nas blends his style with Faultermeyer’s synth stylings and creates a modern homage that stands on its own. Nas X and Balfe give Axel F a nice groove to bop along too, far more than whatever ear sludge modern superhero movies have conditioned audiences to expect. Balfe’s score flows smoothly and has a style that calls back to a time before people opted for the most bland soundtrack possible.

Molloy finds ways of keeping true to the original but finding clever ways to weave in the present. Axel F doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The bad guys die, the good guy gets shot, and both find time to fire off a wisecrack.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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