The new BEVERLY HILLS COP is Eddie Murphy begging for viewers on streaming

Those who didn’t like the old Axel Foley surely won’t like the new one. Those who liked the old one as well…

Odys Korczyński

5 July 2024

If you didn’t like the old Axel Foley, you’re definitely not going to like the new one because the latest production is cut from the same cloth, only slightly altered. The fourth installment of Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is separated by 30 years from the last part and 40 years from the first, which in terms of cinema development is an eternity. The fact that the latest part premiered on Netflix streaming means only one thing – the creators feared failure in theaters because they wrote material pretending to be legendary but too weak to become a legitimate part of the series. Ninety-nine percent of films shot years later and claiming to be sequels of former cult cycles fail because such titles shouldn’t be made if more than a decade has passed since the last one. If you really want to make a crazy, revolutionary remake of a cult title, you should shoot a remake.

That might work, but not after 30 or 40 years, telling the same story with the same actors, who now move as if afflicted by relentless entropy; viewers are left to pity them and forcibly imagine the old faces of their idols as rejuvenated. This forces viewers into an unpleasant mindfuck, pretending they’re watching another part of a cult series when that’s not true. They’re watching a masquerade, a work stealing fame because it lacks an idea of its own. And although at times I felt that positive vibe of the new Beverly Hills Cop, I will return – as I regularly do – to the old parts, not to this new one that humiliatingly begs for viewers on streaming.

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The filmic begging of sequels shot years later mainly involves desperate attempts to copy tried-and-tested tricks and motifs from old parts and basing the entire value of newly shot films on this. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with copying as long as it involves creatively using the copy. The problem is that often the versions shot years later do not carry anything in terms of a valuable storyline, which is then filled in by copying, for example, gags performed artificially by new actors or – worse – by old ones who must remember how they once played cult characters, even 40 years earlier. Such an uncreative approach produces nothing of artistic value, and the shift of such an icon of action comedy like Beverly Hills Cop from theaters to streaming, instead of giving it a chance in both, is the best proof of this. However, to understand why the latest Cop can’t be a legitimate part of the old series but only pretend to be, you need to recall what happened in the previous three, how Axel Foley’s character was built, and who sat in the director’s chair.

The first film in the series premiered in 1984. It was directed by Martin Brest, who was at the beginning of his career but already proven in comedy with *Going in Style*, remade in 2017 by Zach Braff. Brest may not have been well-known when he created the legendary world of Beverly Hills Cop, but in later years he succeeded as a director of equally cult films like *Scent of a Woman* and *Midnight Run*. The story of the first part is very classic. The friend of rebellious Detroit detective Foley is murdered, and the trail leads to Beverly Hills, where the sinister Victor Maitland, who smuggles drugs under the guise of trading artworks, operates. And now recall how in the latest part cartel members load figures of ancient characters into a van. If I remember correctly, among them was Venus. Is this a subtle reference or a thoughtless copy of the plot? Moreover, 40 years after Brest’s film, the screenwriters – and there were three of them – could only create a template character of a corrupt policeman (Grant), who acts so idiotically as if he himself wants to put on handcuffs as soon as possible? It looks pathetic, but maybe the older parts weren’t much better.

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The second part of Beverly Hills Cop premiered in 1987. It was directed by Tony Scott, who after *Top Gun* proved he would stay in aspiring blockbuster action cinema for longer. The plot this time was based on a jewelry theft case, which, however, had a much more serious undertone – arms trafficking. Generally, the intrigue turned out to be less obvious, with more surprising moments, and the quality of direction increased, although the number of typical comedic inserts decreased. This did not worsen the film’s reception. Beverly Hills Cop 2 proved to be a worthy successor to the original and interestingly opened the door for another part, which still waited too long, until 1994. Action cinema was different then than 10 years earlier, so it was aptly decided not to mimic Tony Scott’s style but to offer viewers a return to slapstick action comedy. This required a special director.

Both then and now, the obvious and right choice was John Landis, the creator of hit comedies and a specialist in engaging adventure storytelling. Landis allowed Eddie Murphy more leeway than Tony Scott, but these were memorable antics – for instance, Murphy dressed as an elephant. Interestingly, this direction was also taken by the director of the latest part, Mark Molloy, but he did not consider that after so many years Murphy even runs differently. He lacks both physical and comedic lightness, and the dragged-out dialogues (especially with his daughter) turn out to be boring.

Under Landis, they hit the mark. Actors didn’t banter many times, which can be artificial, and then action followed, full of energy and well-filmed, not sluggish, with clear slowdowns because the camera couldn’t keep up, as in the opening scene of Axel F with the chase after thieves on quads. The plot of the third part was based on the murder of Inspector Todd, which again led Axel Foley to Beverly Hills, this time to an amusement park, where counterfeiters had set up their center.

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It can be said that all three parts differed in intrigue, although they were not separated by as many years as the fourth is from them. Ironically, the latest one, despite having enough time to write another unique plot, followed the scheme of the first one. It went for the path of least resistance. Yet many action film motifs remain to be used in a comedy-enhanced form – such as human trafficking, terrorism, political corruption, or an interesting sect with a murderer at the head, presented much more seriously by George P. Cosmatos in Cobra. As for the director, hiring someone without a track record for such a cult series, right after John Landis 30 years ago, is asking for filmic suicide.

I’m also puzzled by the weak cinematography, because looking at Eduardo Grau’s body of work, it should have been extremely stylish, but it’s mediocre. In action cinema, however, in a cinematographer’s work, you look for energy, not so much painterly artistry, so the aesthetically and technically underdeveloped scenes of chases and fights might have impacted the blandness and sluggishness of Axel F’s visuals. Sometimes it felt like the cars in chase scenes were going 20 miles an hour, and the camera clearly got lost during fistfights, not to mention machine gun shots. In the previous parts, much older, there was no such impression of slow action. And the dialogue inserts, especially between Axel Foley and his daughter Jane, didn’t help.

And so we come from the director and script to the construction of Foley’s character and the source of his cult image’s success. Like the film itself, the latest version of Axel will stand beside the series, clumsily trying to imitate the former style. The “old” Foley owed his aura of fame to magical and fairy-tale qualities that real policemen generally don’t have – thus, he operated outside the system, thought unconventionally, was insubordinate, agile and cunning, intelligent and dedicated to the cause, therefore completely free of obligations. He was a character you could imaginatively disconnect from life, including melodramatic male-female relationships. That’s why he endured without moral categorization per se. He didn’t enter cultural obligations to play such and such a role. Suddenly, he was burdened with mundane life, presumably to humanize, politicize, and/or enrich him with personal relationships while the story should be central, as in previous parts. Axel F was thus given a real life – an ex-wife, a daughter with whom he lost contact and wants to reconnect, and of course her ex-boyfriend and criminals using her for blackmail.

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Many minutes of the plot were thus devoted to meaningless, pseudo-comedic, and melodramatic conversations – mostly in the car, about how bad a father Axel was, how much he regrets it, and how terrible Jane feels because of it. This adds no interesting elements to the action and slows it down, making Foley another cop with problems, plenty of which exist in action cinema, rather than an icon you can easily detach from mundane life as a typical entertainment superhero. This approach once worked, but now Axel, muddied by life like a homeless dog, has become only a shadow of himself from the crazy ’80s, forced into jokes that calling black people monkeys is morally unacceptable or that blacks can’t be hockey fans. Even the seemingly controversial stream of profanity and a 16+ rating didn’t help him. All of this is a pesky, pseudo-entertaining mask that loses its glitter in a stronger wind.

Beverly Hills Cop vividly illustrates the problem of today’s cinema, which grows over time because as years go by, creators have fewer unique ideas for films. Maybe in 100 years, film will be entirely a culture based on copying narratives, and remakes will become the basis of streaming novelties? Or cinema ones? Probably not, because cinemas, as places to simply show moving pictures with sound, will cease to be profitable. It’s easiest to cash in using the ladder someone once left behind, and that’s what the latest Cop does, representing this harmful trend for the art of filmmaking – thoughtless copying as potentially successful by piggybacking on old cult titles.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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