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‘MaXXXine,’ ‘Axel F.’: ’80s revisited – Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

It’s a scene right out of Horror Movie 101:

An attractive young woman, walking alone in a dark alley late at night, realizes someone is stalking her.

Oh, and there’s a satanic serial killer on the loose.

This can’t end well, right?

Only, this isn’t your typical slasher movie.

The stalker flashes a switchblade as he emerges from the darkness, and …

He’s a Buster Keaton impersonator.

The young woman, porn star Maxine Minx, is ready for him. She pulls out a gun and snarls, “Drop it, Buster.”

Then things do get ugly, but with the tables turned.


Maxine (Mia Goth) gets the jump on an attacker in “MaXXXine.” (A24)

Welcome to “MaXXXine” (R, 104 minutes, in theaters), the funny, gory, scary finale of director Ti West’s trilogy of horror thrillers.

Though their characters and stories are connected, and they share some of the same themes (ambition, sexual desire, religious extremism), the three films stand distinctly on their own in terms of style.

The first film, the ’70s-set “X,” about a group of people making a porn film who are terrorized by a creepy couple living in a remote farmhouse, is a variation of the low-budget splatter classic “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

The next film, the prequel “Pearl,” delivers the origin story of one of the “X” killers, but with an entirely different look from the first film. Set in 1918, it is a technicolor rural nightmare, a kind of “Wizard of Oz” on acid, or “Oklahoma!” meets “Psycho.”

Now there’s “MaXXXine,” set in 1985 Hollywood and with the lurid, neon visual style of thrillers from that era. Imagine an ‘80s B-movie directed by Brian De Palma – complete with loads of Hitchcock references.

Despite these differences, one thing all three films have in common – to their great advantage – is British actress Mia Goth in the lead role.

In “X,” Goth plays two parts: Maxine, a stripper looking for fame in adult films, and the decrepit and deranged Pearl. In “Pearl,” she gives an Oscar-worthy performance (which didn’t even nab a nomination) as the younger version of title character. Now, in “MaXXXine,” she’s back as Maxine, who, years after surviving the farmhouse slaughter in “X,” is a skin-flick superstar seeking to make the transition to mainstream movies.

Just when Maxine finally gets her chance to hit the big time, though, a sleazy detective (a scenery-chewing Kevin Bacon) shows up to blackmail her. He represents a secret someone who wants to meet her: Could this someone be the serial killer, or is it just a coincidence that several people Maxine knows are found mutilated?

The cops (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) see a connection, and they try to enlist Maxine’s help to possibly “save the next girl’s life.”

“Maybe she should save herself,” Maxine replies. “I did.”

That’s one of the things that makes “MaXXXine” something more than the genre movies it simultaneously spoofs and emulates: Maxine’s badassery. As evidenced in her encounter with the wannabe Buster Keaton, she refuses to be anyone’s victim.

In fact, she leans in the opposite direction. Her idea of retribution can be brutal and sadistic. Her mantra is “I will not accept a life I don’t deserve,” and she lives by it – though the question remains exactly what kind of life she does deserve. Maxine is single-minded in her desire to be a star, and it appears she’ll do anything to achieve that goal. It makes you wonder how much a difference there is between her and the villain pursuing her.

That might be West’s ultimate point. After all, “MaXXXine” opens with this quote from Bette Davis: “Until you’re known in my profession as a monster, you’re not a star.” The idea is supported when Maxine’s demanding new director, Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), welcomes her to “the belly of the beast” – suggesting that the Hollywood dream factory is a kind of hell, a den of evil.

The fictional director also says something that seems to tip off director West’s ambitions when she describes her new movie to Maxine as “a B-movie with A-movie ideas.” “MaXXXine” and its two predecessors might not be as profound or lofty as all that, but they’re clearly smarter, and more self-aware, than most horror offerings, not to mention more entertaining. *** (out of four)

‘Axel F.’ earns about a C

Eddie Murphy returns in another movie that turns back the clock to the 1980s. And Kevin Bacon’s in this one, too.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” (R, 118 minutes, on Netflix), the fourth film in the franchise, comes 40 years after the first “BHC” and 30 years after the third.

But this generic action comedy is clearly intended to bring us back in time, with Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” – from the original film’s soundtrack – opening the film and other ’80s hits (the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” Bob Seger’s “Shakedown,” Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F.”) playing throughout. Murphy’s Detroit cop Axel Foley is older, and maybe a bit wiser, but has the same ability to B.S. his way through any situation and create mayhem on the busy city streets of Motown and L.A. while chasing – or being chased by – criminals.

This time Axel is drawn to the West Coast when he learns his estranged daughter, Jane (Taylour Paige), is in danger. Jane’s a defense attorney whose latest client has been charged with killing an undercover cop. The accused says he’s been set up by dirty cops involved in drug trafficking, and Jane believes him. When thugs tell her to give up the case or else, Axel comes to investigate what’s going on.

The plot brings in several previous “BHC” characters, played by Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser and Bronson Pinchot. Newcomers include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Detective Bobby Abbott, who joins Axel in the case, and Kevin Bacon, as a police captain who, from the start, is so transparently corrupt that he might as well be carrying a placard saying “I am the villain.”

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.”

Eddie Murphy returns as Axel Foley in “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” (Netflix)

Mike Molloy, making his feature-film directorial debut, and a trio of screenwriters haven’t seemed to go to great pains to make this movie anything more than what you’d expect. The plot, characters and dialogue are pedestrian and predictable (“Turn in your badge – now!”); the action scenes are ridiculous, with lame chases featuring Axel in a snowplow, a golf cart and a helicopter (in each case his mode of transportation is supposed to be funny, but it never is).

Nasim Pedrad, who, like Murray, is a former “Saturday Night Live” regular, delivers the best moments with her brief stint as Ashley De La Rosa, a spacy real-estate agent who gives Axel, Jane and Bobby posing as potential homebuyers, a tour of a tacky mansion:

Ashley: “Do you guys like bathrooms?”

Jane: “We use them.”

Ashley: “Totally. Same.”

That’s as good as “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” gets. **

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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