Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Eddie Murphy and Chad Oman  Director: Mark Molloy   Screenplay: Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten   Cast: Eddie Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylour Paige, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser, Bronson Pinchot, Kevin Bacon, Luis Guzmán, Kyle S. More, Mark Pellegrino, Damien Diaz, Affion Crockett and Christopher McDonald   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: C

Detroit detective Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is more than thirty years older now—when “Beverly Hills Cop III” appeared in 1994, he was unmarried, but in this revival feature he has a daughter, Jane Saunders (Taylour Paige), who’s thirty-two—but in narrative terms the franchise still seems stuck in the nineties, with a plot that not only breaks no new ground but comes across as positively antediluvian, and Axel still displaying the attitude of a sassy adolescent.  As John Taggart (John Ashton), one of the returnees from earlier movies in the series, says at one point here, “Some things never change,” and it’s a maxim that applies pretty well to the screenplay by Will Beall, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten.

It begins with Axel and his ineffectual Detroit partner Mike Woody (Kyle S. More) foiling a robbery at Little Caesars Arena during a Red Wings game and then commandeering a snow plow to chase the escaping members of the gang, sowing havoc in the process and causing so much trouble for his former partner (now his commander) Jeff Friedman (Paul Reiser) that the guy decides to retire (though Foley realizes he’s taking the fall to save his shield). 

No sooner does that old-fashioned prologue finish than Axel gets a call from his old Beverly Hills buddy Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold), now a PI, about Jane, who’s long been estranged from her father.  A high-powered Los Angeles defense attorney, she’s taken on, pro bono at Billy’s behest, the case of Sam Enriquez (Damien Diaz), a young man accused, on the basis of pretty strong evidence, of killing an undercover cop.  Now her life has been threatened.  Of course Axel is on the next plane to California.  By the time he gets there, Billy’s been abducted while investigating those he suspects were really behind the killing.

Soon Axel’s made contact with Jane, who wants nothing to do with him, and with Taggart, returned from retirement as Chief; he also meets Bobby Abbott (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the lead detective on the killing of the undercover cop, who also happens to be Jane’s erstwhile boyfriend (she dropped him because, we learn, she didn’t want a relationship with a policeman, having seen how Axel’s devotion to his job undermined his marriage).  And then there’s Cade Grant (Kevin Bacon), a captain in the narcotics division with a ultra-smooth manner and a suspiciously upscale wardrobe.

Part of the problem with “Axel F” is that there’s absolutely no suspense about who the villain is: anybody who’s ever seen a movie will spot him the moment he first comes on the screen.  But the bigger flaw is that the juxtaposition of contrived action sequences (a vehicle chase down an L.A. street, an extravagant comic episode in which Foley and Abbott steal a police helicopter after they’ve been framed as drug traffickers, the obligatory final shoot-out in which all the major players are conveniently involved) with a series of scenes in which Axel and Jane gradually come to understand one another and reestablish their long dormant father-daughter bond, culminating of course with Jane’s being taken prisoner by the villain and Axel’s determination rescue his daughter-in-distress at any cost) is clumsy.  And when you add to the mix the comic bits in which Murphy repeatedly gets to show off Axel’s motor-mouth improvisatory skills, the mixture comes to feel pretty ungainly.

That’s not to say that the action scenes aren’t well executed.  First-time director Mark Molloy, cinematographer Edu Grau, editor Dan Lebental and the visual effects team led by Bryan Gill pull them off respectably, even if they let them run on too long.  And some of the comic stuff shows that Murphy remains as verbally adept as he ever was:  the opening riff in which he embarrasses Woody for supposed racial insensitivity is a hoot, and a later one-on-one with a valet parking attendant (Affion Crockett) who refuses to give him a car just because he’s a “brother” is wittily done.  An over-the-top encounter with Enriquez’s drug-lord uncle Chalino (the reliable Luis Guzmán) also has some sparkle.  But bringing back Bronson Pinchot as Serge was a mistake; thirty years on, the character is really past his expiration date.

Other returnees—Reinhold, Reiser, Ashton—fare better, though the material they’re handed is rather feeble.  Of the newcomers, Paige is beautiful, but Jane’s stiffly lawyerly demeanor doesn’t give her much room to maneuver.  A bearded Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, makes an amiable (and able) new partner in rogue heroism for Foley (and an obvious Mr. Right for Jane).  Bacon brings the required suavity to Grant, but this is not his finest hour.  Production designer Jahmin Assa and costumer Nancy Steiner do okay work, with the latter bringing back Foley’s old Lions jacket which, unlike Columbo’s raincoat, looks like it hasn’t aged a day (of course its wearer is looking good for a man in his sixties, too—and since Axel hasn’t grown up any, that seems appropriate).  In a similar vein composer Lorne Balfe fills his score with the old familiar strains from past installments; what he adds to them is negligible.

In the end what “Axel F” provides is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, which pretty much replicates a decades-old formula without feeling the need to add much new to it beyond the simple passage of years.  That mix satisfied audiences who embraced “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” a month ago, and may do so again; but feeling you’re caught up in a time warp can get—well, old.