Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F review — taps a rich seam of nostalgia

Eddie Murphy is back! His co-stars might be showing their age, but this is a lot of fun...

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F
(Image: © Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix)

What to Watch Verdict

The return of Eddie Murphy's cocky, loudmouth cop, not to mention old favorites Judge Reinhold, John Ashton and Bronson Pinchot, will have 1980s nostalgics smiling.


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    Taps a rich seam of nostalgia

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    Reunites the old crew

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    Pushes the right buttons


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    No surprises

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    Unlikely to win new fans

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    Murphy’s co-stars are showing their age

Riding in on a wave of nostalgic goodwill, Eddie Murphy is back in the role that turned him into a Hollywood superstar, and his streetwise, rule-bending, motormouth cop is every bit as cocksure and reckless, fans will be relieved to hear, as he was in 1984. And it's not just Murphy's Axel Foley who's back. The old gang is here, too, with Judge Reinhold and John Ashton reprising their roles as the buttoned-up Beverly Hills detectives who, in the course of the first movie, turned into unlikely pals and allies for Murphy's brash out-of-town cop.

Forty years on, Murphy's Axel is so iconic that it's easy to forget what an impact his performance made at the time. Brimming with cheek and charisma, he turned what could have been yet another routine cop movie into a freewheeling fish-out-of-water comedy with added thrills. You only have to watch lumpen 1986 police thriller Cobra to see how Beverly Hills Cop might have ended up had an earlier choice for the role, Sylvester Stallone, played the lead. When attached to the project, Stallone had immediately set about toning down the story's humor. As we know, Murphy ramped it up.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley holding a gun in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley (Image credit: Netflix)

All these years later, the first film is held in such great affection that it is no wonder that the makers of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F stick resolutely to formula. As before, the action opens in cold, wintry, hard-scrabble Detroit and doesn't waste too much time before Axel is again causing major vehicular mayhem on the city's streets to the despair of his superiors — this time he is at the wheel of a snowplow having interrupted a heist at an ice hockey game (cue a series of gags around Axel's unlikely appearance in the stands of such a snow-white sport).

And it isn't long before Axel is heading once more to sunny, opulent Beverly Hills after criminal violence is directed at someone very dear to him. In Beverly Hills Cop it was his ex-con childhood friend Mikey; this time it is his estranged daughter Jane (the fact that she uses the surname Saunders is a sign of their estrangement — and the trigger for one of Axel/Murphy's typical verbal riffs). Jane (Taylour Paige) is now an idealistic criminal defense attorney in LA and it is her pro-bono work representing the accused killer of an undercover cop that has landed her in danger from the real murderers. Adding a further touch of jeopardy, Reinhold’s Billy Rosewood, who has left the police force to work as a private investigator and is involved in the same case, has gone missing. 

Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F (Image credit: Netflix)

Again sticking to formula, the new movie makes it blatantly clear from the get-go who the real bad guys are. The moment he turns up, Kevin Bacon’s slick Gucci-wearing police captain is even more obviously a wrong ’un than was Steven Berkoff’s vicious drug-dealing art dealer in the first film. 

By now it should be clear, too, that viewers of Axel F won't be encountering surprises. Nor, probably, will most of them want any. Yet the appearance of Harold Faltermeyer’s jaunty synth earworm, the series’ unforgettable theme tune, will be enough on its own to put a smile on fans' faces. The movie does supply a sprinkling of fresh one-liners, such as Axel’s insult "Y'all are the LEGO cops," as a pair of LA police officers try to put him into a "little Fisher-Price-looking squad car." For the most part, however, what it best delivers is the comfort of familiarity. And whether it is Murphy’s trademark seal honk of a laugh or the sound of Bronson Pinchot’s returning character Serge, the camp art gallery worker with the hilariously untraceable accent, saying "Ach-well" (his offbeam pronunciation of "Axel"), the film certainly pushes the right buttons.

Admittedly, Axel F coasts on the audience's affection for its characters, but its relaxed spirit means it is also unafraid to poke fun at the variable quality of the series’ previous installments. "This is not my first time in Beverly Hills," Murphy's Axel tells local police detective Bobby Abbott, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. "Yeah, I saw that,' replies Bobby (who turns out to be Jane’s ex-boyfriend), leafing through a dossier illustrating Axel’s previous visits in 1984, 1987 and 1994. “Not your finest hour,” he says of the last, a neat dig at the universally acknowledged direness of Beverly Hills Cop III.

The Beverly Hills Cop team won't be claiming Axel F as their finest hour either, while anyone coming to the film fresh will probably struggle to see what all the fuss was about. Still, even if Murphy no longer has the explosive comic energy of his youthful self, he has aged remarkably well (far better than his co-stars, it has to be said). And that, in itself, will undoubtedly be enough for fans to give the movie an easy ride.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.