They Love Him in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

It can be hard for film series to grow and change, and harder still for the fans of those works to appreciate the changes. I reviewed the first three films in the Beverly Hills Cop series (Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Beverly Hills Cop III a while back as part of my annual “Five Days of Die Hard” feature, and for those works having those films be considered part of the Die HardThe 1980s were famous for the bombastic action films released during the decade. Featuring big burly men fighting other big burly men, often with more guns, bombs, and explosions than appear in Michael Bay's wildest dreams, the action films of the decade were heavy on spectacle, short on realism. And then came a little film called Die Hard that flipped the entire action genre on its head. genre makes sense. A lone cop, out on a quest to bring down terrorists, it all fits the genre nicely. But it is also important to note that the threads that make for a Die Hard are specific and when a film ventures outside those traits, it becomes something else altogether.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is not a Die Hard-style film even as it fits perfectly into the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. It’s a movie that pays loving homage to the three movies that came before (most specifically the original movie from 1984) and while those movies were clearly influenced by other films from around that time (and helped to influence both the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchises that grew out of the action-comedy buddy cop formula), this newest film seems to care more about being just a good Beverly Hills Cop movie than anything else.

And yet… it can’t help but be a modern action-comedy for the modern era, and that means that certain parallels with the Die Hard franchise still hold true. Our hero, Axel Foley, ends up working with a partner, just like John McClain did in all his later films. Our hero has to have an estranged relationship with a member of his family, just like John McClaine always did. While I absolutely wouldn’t consider this film a Die Hard, and I don’t see any need to revisit it as part of the yearly feature, I do also see how it’s hard to make a fresh and original film in this genre without bumping up against all the ideas that have come along in the interim. That makes this newest entry in the Beverly Hills Cop film feel a little less fresh, a little less original, and more just another sequel to come along like all the rest. Not bad, but unable to top the first film.

In this fourth entry, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F once again followed Detroit detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, back in the sneakers of his most famous character after 30 years). After an initial chase taking down burglars at a hockey game (and path of destruction in his wake, as is his way), Axel gets a call from his old pal Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold). Billy has been working with Axel’s estranged daughter, defense attorney Jane Saunders (Taylour Paige), on a pro bono case defending a man accused of killing a cop. After talking to the defendant, though, Jane is attacked by a group of masked men and almost killed. Billy, worried about her, lets Axel know and Axel then hops on a plane to get out to Beverly Hills to help his daughter.

Naturally, she doesn’t want his help. The two of them haven’t talked in years and she wants nothing to do with her father anymore. However, despite the Beverly Hills police (as led by Chief John Taggart, played once again by John Ashton) saying the kid is a cop killer and should have the book thrown at him, Axel thinks there’s more to the case and refuses to go away. So he teams up with Jane, as well as Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to investigate the murder, corruption in the BVPD, and all the people that seem to be involved in the cover-up.

The worst part of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is that the actual case, as laid out in the movie, is honestly beneath Axel Foley. It’s not that I have anything against him taking down corrupt cops or defending an accused cop killer. I actually think that’s a great story and I appreciate that this newest entry in the franchise isn’t naked cop-aganda. The issue is that the actual case is too easy for Axel to figure out. Within seconds of him being introduced to the other characters, seeing new to the series Captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon), he’s already pegged Grant as the bad guy and ringleader of the whole conspiracy. This is in the first act of the movie, and there’s never any red herrings or side plots to dissuade this judgment.

I understand these are fun, silly action-comedy movies and that none of the Beverly Hills Cop films have been all that deep. At the same time, though, the film sets up a mystery – who really killed the cop and why was this one kid framed – and then almost immediately provides all the answers. Tension, thus, doesn’t come from the main case but from the characters around the story as well as the action set pieces. While those work, it leaves a vacant hole in the middle of the film that should have been taken up with good investigative police work. Axel is too good for this case to fool him at all.

Not that the film helps itself by casting Kevin Bacon as the villain. Bacon is really good at playing a smarmy, sleezy, scumbag. It turns that on instantly the very first second he comes on screen and, even if Axel didn’t tell us, “this fucker is the bad guy,” we’d know that this fucker is the bad guy. There’s no denying it the second you see him, and the film never once introduces any other villain to take the possible place. Bacon’s Cady is a villain from scene one and a better film would have subverted expectations for his character, or at least played around with it for a bit before confirming our suspicions. In that regard, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is not a better movie.

At the same time, it is a fun and enjoyable ride. While the main plot may not be a strong enough case to carry the film, the characters and action do their jobs quite well. Murphy naturally and instantly falls back into his Axel Foley character, who you can tell is basically just Murphy’s stand-up persona given a badge. Axel isn’t a deep character, basically just being an output for Murphy to be Murphy, but it is a fun, natural fit for the actor. Before this film I would have said (because of the third film) we’d have enough Axel Foley and we didn’t need more. This film proves me wrong.

I also do like his daughter. While I don’t quite buy Taylour Paige as a high-priced, take-no-shit lawyer, I do believe her as Axel’s daughter. Their scenes, with the two of them playing off each other (either sniping at each other or actually having fun being around one another) work really well. There’s natural chemistry between the actors, enough that you can buy them as family (even estranged family). The two of them perform real, solid character work and the scenes of them just being family actually help the film, instead of dragging us away from the story.

The real stand out, though, is Gordon-Levitt. While Murphy and Paige feel like they’re playing characters (even if good characters), Gordon-Levitt’s Abbott feels lived in. He’s on a different level, acting wise, then everyone else in this film. Everyone else clearly showed up to have a good time and party in a Beverly Hills Cop film. Gordon-Levitt showed up to act, and man, he really does. His performance was good enough that if NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). announced they were going to make a spin-off film just for Abbott, I would be there to watch it. I’d actually pay money, in theaters, to watch that film. He’s great.

Oh yeah, and there’s action. Honestly, none of it is all that special, but then I don’t think any of the action set-pieces in this series have been top tier. There are a couple of fun chase sequences, a great helicopter sequence (done, clearly, with practical effects), and an end shoot-out. You could probably layer the original film over this movie and line up the action beats (and their inspiration), beat for beat, and that’s fine. It provides that Beverly Hills Cop comfort food people might be looking for. None of it is spectacular, but none of it is really bad either. It’s action because we need action in these movies, and it’s decent enough to carry us through.

In the end, this movie is a fine and enjoyable sequel to the franchise. It’s not super special, and if this were the only film in the series ever released, I’d even consider it a bit flat. But for a legacy sequel resurrecting a franchise that was long seen as dead, while giving us just enough of the classic formula to enjoy, I’d consider it a decent enough winner. You have to like this franchise to want to watch this film, but if you do like these movies then you’re certain to enjoy this film as well. It’s nowhere near as bad as Beverly Hills Cop III, and if I’m being honest, that was really the only bar this film had to clear to be a success.