Still Funny A.F.

I grew up fearing the year 1984; thank you, George Orwell and my high school English teachers.  But instead of utter dystopia we got a memorable Apple commercial that utterly trashed the eponymous novel that drove my angst, a shockingly entertaining race for the National League Eastern Division title between the Mets and Cubs, neither of which had been competitive for years, and a whole slew of wonderfully original and entertaining theatrical comedies.  And the one that stood tallest among those comedies was the OG BEVERLY HILLS COP, which dominated multiplexes for nearly four months and, on an adjusted basis, generated more box office revenue than any R-rated movie before or since.  And it wasn’t just the movie that dominated zeitgeist; it was the scintillating soundtrack, led by Harold Faltermayer’s synch-pop theme and the ubiquitous airplay of NEUTRON DANCE and THE HEAT IS ON, that one couldn’t avoid.  Not that anyone wanted to, least of all me.

If you were alive and alert forty summers ago, it likely gave you all the more reason to anticipate yesterday’s Netflix drop of BEVERLY HILLS COP A.F.  And if indeed you fall into that category, you’re likely to be as favorable as those who have lined up to praise it, such as USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt:

After 40 years, Eddie Murphy can play his iconic detective Axel Foley in his sleep. It’s the little details, though, that make his latest “Beverly Hills Cop” movie a true comfort-food throwback: retro Bob Seger and Pointer Sisters tunes, that signature Detroit Lions varsity jacket and the impressive commitment to on-duty ridiculousness.

Three decades after Axel’s last assignment, “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” (★★★ out of four; rated R; premiering Wednesday on Netflix) is a confident fourth outing in the action-comedy franchise. And while it’s a very modern release – via streaming rather than movie theaters – everything else leans pretty old school.

Indeed, it’s practically a 40th anniversary reunion, as not only is Murphy, still remarkably youthful even in his early 60s, back but so too are his old BHPD buddies Taggart and Rosewood.  Taggart is now the department chief while Rosewood, retired from the force, is still chasing bad guys via a private investigation company he runs out of a small strip mall office.  When Rosewood goes missing, embroiled in a case pursuing department corruption that ultimately links back to Axel’s estranged daughter Jane, an LA defense attorney, Axel once again returns to the place where he again cheerfully asserts “everybody loves him”–unlike Detroit, where even after all these years he’s still wreaking havoc and destroying city property while tooling around wintry streets in his 1970 Chevy Nova. (One wonders exactly how much Axel has poured into keeping that classic driveable for these many decades).

Once Foley wings west it’s essentially lather-rinse-repeat from the OG films. (There’s more than a few subtle and deserved knocks against BH COP III, which Murphy himself has dissed as “garbage”).  Axel’s again going after bad-ass uber-rich guys and dirty cops, grinning and ultimately one step ahead of just about everyone.  There’s a whole lotta bullet-ridden and car-destroying action sequences that defined Jerry Bruckheimer films then and now, intermingled with some laugh-out-loud scenes with truly memorable comic foils.   That particular formula allows the seamless return of Bronson Pinchot’s memorable Serge, though the current blond and buffed version of him isn’t exactly easy on the eyes.

But there are some new elements and less familiar talents as well.  Kevin Bacon plays against character as the heavy, even snorting a few lines of coke along the way.  Pinchot this time is joined by SNL alum Nasim Pedrad in a wonderfully ridiculous comic relief scene where the stunning and quick-witted Pedrad reminds us why she’s so sorely missed.  ( There’s also a great cameo by Affion Crockett as a wisecracking and vocally trained valet).  Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows great range as Murphy’s foil and partner this time around, with a backdrop of a relationship gone sour with Axel’s daughter.  And in that role, Taylour Paige proves more than capable of holding her own with both Murphy and Axel, following his lead on improvisation and investigating and showing great range as both an accomplished professional and a daughter who is simultaneously in awe of and tremendously hurt by her dad.  How she evolves and resolves those issues over the course of this film is as especially pleasing and enjoyable arc.

I’m aware that this franchise has found a sizable audience of younger viewers over its many years of ubiquitous availability on cable and home video.  Netflix has licensed the first two and they both show up as recommends along with AXEL F in any title search.  Not that one needs to; yesterday, the platform teed it up so prominently one was greeted with a play prompt ahead of the usual home screen.  I’m personally curious how those younger viewers react to it without the backdrop of actual memories of the summer of ’84.  A good deal of the more tepid reviews I’ve seen so far seems to come from that generation.

But to you whippersnappers I’d only offer this food for thought–given where this country and this world are on this particular Fourth of July, arguably as dystopian a place than anything George Orwell may have predicted, a summer punctuated by Axel and Serge should be considered as welcome a comic relief now as it was then.

Until next time… 

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