Wednesday, July 3, 2024


 by Rob DiCristino

The heat is on…Netflix.

In his 1984 review of Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, Roger Ebert laments the onset of “Star Magic Syndrome, in which it is assumed that a movie will be a hit simply because it stars an enormously talented person.” Though Star Magic Syndrome would come to define the major studio output of the 1980s — an age of corporate opulence that saw charismatic figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone competing for box office supremacy — the always-canny Ebert seemed to be identifying the supposed rot at the heart of the star-driven vehicle as he knew it. Muscles could only get so big, after all. Assault rifles could only hold so many rounds. Ferris Bueller could only take so many days off. It’s easy to see why Ebert tired of it by the end of that decade, but it’s also hard to look at the cinematic landscape of the 2020s and not wish for a bit more of that Star Magic. After all, audiences like movie stars! We relate to them. We look up to them. Why? Star Magic. Eddie Murphy had Star Magic once, especially in the years he spent playing Axel Foley, arguably the defining role of his career.
And perhaps it’s memories of that bygone era (era) that have brought us Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F. Perhaps Eddie Murphy — whose late career output has been a mix of spectacular highs (Dolemite is My Name) and infuriating lows (You People) — could sense a Marvel-fatigued audience crying out for a true hero, a scrappy, street-wise underdog whose relentless pursuit of adventure doesn’t bend to the flighty whims of political correctness or modern preoccupations with complex multiverses. Perhaps Murphy saw contemporaries like Stallone and Tom Cruise return to signature characters — Rocky Balboa in Creed and Pete Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick, respectively — to great critical and commercial success and saw similar potential in the fun-loving Looney Toon who made him a movie star. Perhaps he envisioned an aged Axel Foley who, like Maverick, refused to set down his life’s work. Perhaps, reflecting on personal and professional demons of his own, he saw an Axel at a Balboa-like crossroads: Should he chase who he used to be or embrace who he is now?

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F doesn’t really deal with any of that introspective shit, though, so perhaps Murphy just envisioned himself cashing an easy paycheck. The feature debut of commercial director Mark Molloy, the four-quel returns us to a Motor City that looks very much the way we left it: Foley still runs roughshod over the streets, and now-Captain Jeffrey Friedman (Paul Reiser) is still covering his ass. Meanwhile, Foley’s estranged daughter (Taylour Paige as Jane) is a successful criminal defense attorney — in, you guessed it, Beverly Hills — whose latest client is accused of murdering a policeman. Though BHPD Captain Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon) sees an open-and-shut case, private investigator Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) sees a conspiracy and warns his old friend Axel that his daughter might be in danger. Axel flies to Beverly Hills to find Jane hostile — Axel apparently had and abandoned her in the 30 years since Beverly Hills Cop III — Rosewood missing, and septuagenarian John Taggart (John Ashton) too addled to stand up straight.
Axel’s still Axel, though, so he immediately identifies Grant as the villain — Bacon doesn’t even bother to hide it, spreading a thick layer of slime over every line delivery — and sets to work dismantling his whole operation. Joining him is Detective Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former rescue pilot who was dating Jane until her lack of emotional availability — perhaps spurred by parental neglect? I’m just kidding; it’s definitely that — soured their romance. From there, Molloy and screenwriters Will Beall, Tom Gormican, and Kevin Etton give us whatever passes for an action-comedy in 2024, a series of medium close-up chases, quips, and explosions designed to be digested as fifteen-second clips on your social media platform of choice. This isn’t to say that the series was ever an exemplary action showcase — though some would argue that Tony Scott’s Part II had a bit of the director’s idiosyncratic flair — but Molloy never makes a real effort on the visual front, instead delivering yet another flat and guileless Netflix feature destined to get lost in the carousel.
And while it’s littered with callbacks, references, and in-jokes — Bronson Pinchot’s Serge returns for an overlong sequence that makes his scene in the original look subtle and delicate in comparison — Axel F’s chief virtue may be that it never pretends Axel Foley or the Beverly Hills Cop series are complex entities worthy of significant interrogation. In the end, Axel Foley couldn’t carry a Creed or a Top Gun: Maverick. He’s Bugs Bunny. He’s Captain Jack Sparrow. He’s the catalyst for the action in Axel F but just barely leads it, and the film’s one worthwhile running gag involves him growing gradually more weary at having to come up with new characters to bewitch hostesses, doormen, and others gatekeeping the next piece of the puzzle (“Forget it; I’m too tired,” he finally tells a concierge after a silly voice falls flat). Does this make Axel F an unworthy endeavor? That really depends on you. Want another three-star Beverly Hills Cop sequel? Here you go! Want another legacy sequel that mistakes nostalgia for story mechanics? Here you go! What do you want, Star Magic?

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is on Netflix now.

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