Beverly Hills Cop sequel familiar but fun, The Moor a mess of a thriller

Familiar ground covered in fun Axel F

I’m pretty sure we didn’t need another Beverly Hills Cop movie, but that being said, Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is about as good as we should expect under the circumstances. Taking a page from the Top Gun: Maverick playbook, director Mark Molloy and the three (?) writers who authored the screenplay make sure to give a tip of the hat to every single element that made the 1984 original such a hit. And while on the surface, this may seem lazy, this is a movie that is nothing if not an exercise in fan service, and if that means bringing Bronson Pinchot out of mothballs, so be it.

The template for these movies being what it is, the action opens in Detroit, where Foley (Murphy) is still cruising Motown’s mean streets, causing massive amounts of property damage while solving routine crimes. A phone call from his old buddy Billy (Judge Reinhold), now a private eye, gets him on a red eye to Los Angeles.  Seems Foley’s daughter Jane (Taylour Paige), a Beverly Hills attorney, has decided to represent a young man accused of killing a police officer. Before you know it, she’s being threatened by masked miscreants, telling her to drop the case, indicating that there is much more to this than meets the eye.

Of course, as soon as Foley lands in the City of Angels, reunions are the order of the day. Seems Billy’s old partner Taggert (John Ashton) is now the chief of police, while Serge (the aforementioned Pinchot) is still mangling the English language with his generic Eastern European accent. And there are new players to keep track of too, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves a welcome addition as Detective Abbott, Jane’s ex and Foley’s reluctant new de facto partner. Then there’s Kevin Bacon as Captain Grant, who might as well have the words “Bad Guy” written on his forehead from his first scene onward.

From the techno-beat, disco-pop soundtrack to the outlandish action set pieces, Molloy renders them with an ear and eye towards replication. Of course, Murphy follows suit, effortlessly turning on the brash charm that made him an international start four decades ago, as if Cop III came out yesterday. I forgot how much fun it is seeing Foley in action, assuming one persona after another, cajoling or commanding as the situation demands it, providing the viewer with a gleeful cathartic experience as he skewers one authority figure after another.

To be sure, there are a few modern concerns thrown into the mix. When Abbott informs our hero that his attempts at emasculating others no longer works and that as far as policing is concerned, the public “doesn’t want swashbucklers, they want social workers,” it feels like the screenwriters were required to include such modern notions. Foley’s admonishing a fellow cop early on regarding racial stereotypes comes off as labored as well. While these issues cannot be addressed often enough, this is not the forum to approach them in such a half-baked way.

No, this is about car crashes, wisecracks, seeing Murphy in his element and being reminded that all from the original cast are, in fact, alive and kicking. And while Netflix’s massive coffers make it so that their films do not require a theatrical release, it seems as though they are doing fans a disservice by not putting this on the big screen. The very definition of a summer popcorn movie, Axel F doesn’t rewrite the action film playbook, but it succeeds in doing what it was meant to do. It reminds us of what made us fans of Murphy in the first place, while providing the viewer with many opportunities to grin in appreciating the kind of grounded action, comedy that for many years has been sorely missed.

Moor a murky mess

A meandering mess of a movie, Chris Cronin’s The Moor is an occasionally effective thriller that proves engaging at times, only to squander its potential. Tepid pacing and a directionless script underscore two key problems as there are more than a few moments when it is obvious Cronin isn’t sure how to approach the material, while the script by Paul Thomas is a flabby construct in need of serious trimming.

The film opens with an impressive, seemingly single-take sequence that recounts a petty theft from a corner grocery by Claire and Danny (Billie Suggett and Dexter Sol Ansell). While he serves as a distraction, she stuffs her bookbag with sweets, running out the door as soon as possible. However, Danny fails to join her, mysteriously disappearing in broad daylight. Tragically, he is the first in a series of disappearances that culminate in a dubious arrest years later.

Twenty-five years pass and the culprit is set for release, prompting Danny’s father, Bill (David Edward-Robertson), to enlist Claire’s help (Sophia La Porta) to use her little-listened to podcast to make the public aware of this event. He also wants to venture out on the moors where many believe the bodies of the missing children were disposed. He hopes to find evidence that will put the assailant back in jail, going so far as to hire Alex and Eleanor (Mark Peachey and Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips), a father-daughter team of psychics to help in his search.

I’ll do my best to get around the ridiculous notion that a father would wait 25 years to look for his son and focus on some of the film’s other flaws. Far too many scenes are devoted to characters lamenting about their past, protesting over why they shouldn’t be embarking on this fool’s errand or making dire confessions. The movie is talk heavy when it should be concentrating on building suspense. Heartfelt moments between the characters fall flat because they are slowly rendered, and they prevent this “thriller” from thrilling.

More troubling is the lack of focus in Thomas’ script. There’s little in the way of consistency regarding how this material is approached. At one moment it appears to be a gritty crime thriller, at others there’s a suggestion that supernatural forces are at play, while at times it plays like a straight horror film. The shifting visual perspective adds to the confusion. Hand-held shots, mixed with a point-of-view approach, and standard horror images are used as well, while a talking-heads documentary approach is used now and again.

The cast is game, which helps, and Cronin excels at times in creating genuinely eerie moments, utilizing dense fog, overcast skies and the murky terrain to great effect. Without question, he shows potential, which hopefully will come to fruition with a future project employing a more streamlined, coherent script. As it is, The Moor is an intriguing calling card for the director, yet the script casts the viewer adrift, much like the beleaguered characters at its center. Available through Video-On-Demand.

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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