Shock Review: ‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ – The Heat’s Gone! Now Filled with Warm Nostalgia!

Creating a new version of the iconic “Beverly Hills Cop” film has been a conundrum that has perplexed Hollywood for quite some time. Brett Ratner, despite his numerous attempts, seemed to struggle to solve this puzzle, as indicated in a 2010 Empire magazine interview when he pondered, “Where do we even begin?”

Indeed, where does one start? There were several challenges that perplexed those who attempted to breathe new life into the franchise: Is Axel retired? Is he residing in Beverly Hills? Is he on vacation? Will Judge Reinhold return as Billy Rosewood?

In retrospect, it appears that the entire process was overcomplicated. From the moment the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films lightning bolt logo graces the screen in Netflix’s “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” (streaming July 3), accompanied by the unmistakeable saxophone melody of “The Heat Is On,” it becomes clear that everyone involved grasped the task at hand. The key to reviving the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise was to replicate the original.

The first “Beverly Hills Cop” film hit the big screen 40 years ago, a fact that will startle those who remember watching it in theaters, and amaze those just discovering that Murphy was a mere 23 years old when he starred in it. The film dominated the box office for 13 straight weeks, selling 67 million tickets and, when adjusted for inflation, remains the highest-earning R-rated movie ever. Following his performances on “Saturday Night Live,” “48 Hrs.” and “Trading Places,” it solidified Murphy’s status as a film star.

If you weren’t there (and especially if you were), “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” has been carefully crafted to transport you back to a time when synth pop dominated the radio, a car could be sabotaged by a banana in its tailpipe, and a suite in a luxurious Beverly Hills hotel cost only $235 per night. (In “Axel F,” we learn that the price has increased significantly.)

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Here’s the recipe for a “Beverly Hills Cop” film: It begins in Detroit, Axel’s home city, with an elaborate chase scene involving cars, trucks and in the case of “Axel F,” a snow plow. Axel operates beyond the confines of law enforcement protocol, and after the initial chaotic scene, his irate boss informs him that he has crossed the line this time, warning him to avoid such antics in the future! (In this instance, it’s Paul Reiser delivering the stern lecture.)

However, the reproof doesn’t fully register because Axel was in the right. He always is. In fact, he’s never more correct than when everyone is telling him he’s wrong. That’s a key part of the character’s charm.

Then an event occurs that requires a journey to L.A., specifically Beverly Hills. In “Axel F,” it’s a phone call from Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), who is endearingly naive and currently in danger because he’s on the verge of uncovering a police conspiracy. Axel’s estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), is also entwined in this situation due to her role as a criminal defense attorney.

Once the stakes are set, Axel travels to Beverly Hills. He cleverly talks his way out of trouble, shares a scene with Bronson Pinchot’s extravagantly accented character Serge, imparts his wisdom about police work to the local officials, and occasionally reveals an astute understanding of racial dynamics in America. (When a police officer tells him not to reach for his ID in “Axel F,” Axel responds, “I’ve been a cop for 30 years. I’ve been Black a whole lot longer. Trust me. I know better.”)

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Then comes a climactic confrontation, stressing the need to remove sunglasses when handling a submachine gun, a little more dancing to Harold Faltermeyer’s synth-pop hit “Axel F,” a group hug of sorts between Murphy, Reinhold and John Ashton (returning as Det. Taggart, Billy’s partner and grumpy bestie), and then the credits roll.

You may not recall, but the original “Beverly Hills Cop” film received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. Were voters aware that Murphy improvised most of his lines to the extent that his co-stars struggled to keep a straight face? Perhaps this was an acknowledgment of his talent. Murphy was just that good.

It’s possible you’re unaware that there was a third “Beverly Hills Cop” film in 1994, which Murphy has referred to as “trash.” One of the best lines in “Axel F” is uttered by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a newcomer to the franchise playing a Beverly Hills police detective, as he reviews Axel’s file and comments, “And then, ’94. Not your best moment.” The first two films, along with “Axel F,” are available on Netflix. The third is not.

While promoting “Axel F,” the film’s director, Mark Molloy, has emphasized that he allowed Murphy the freedom to improvise. (The screenplay is credited to three writers — Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etten. Kudos to whoever came up with the “not your best moment” line.) Murphy delivers a solid performance, though the tone has shifted from bold confidence to nostalgic cheerfulness. The excitement has faded.

But that’s to be expected. Murphy is comfortable with reflecting his age, and the film devotes some time to Axel’s efforts to reconnect with his determined daughter. It’s challenging to acknowledge emotions when they’re drowned out by the sound of machine gun fire.

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While it’s tempting to dismiss “Axel F” as a calculated money-making scheme, it’s evident that Murphy holds a genuine fondness for the character. From the beginning, Murphy’s portrayal hinged on Axel’s ability to form warm connections with everyone he encounters. Even the villains find him likable. As Axel drives his blue Chevy Nova through Detroit’s streets during the opening credits of the new film, the city’s residents smile and wave (and occasionally gesture rudely) as he passes by. They’re pleased to see him. And so are we.

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