Synopsis – The African monarch Akeem learns he has a long-lost son in the United States and must return to America to meet this unexpected heir and build a relationship with his son.
My Take – Released back in 1988, the John Landis directed romantic comedy, Coming to America, was a massive hit, earning about $288 million worldwide on its comparatively smaller $36 million budget. Expectedly, much of the acclaim headed towards its star, Eddie Murphy, who like much of his future filmography, showcased remarkable character work, by not only providing proof that he is indeed a charming leading man, but also his chameleon flair for performances by parading a roster of over-the-top prosthetic based personalities.
A stage which he shared with his equally competent co-star Arsenio Hall. Beyond that, the film became a cultural zeitgeist celebrating American comedy, with its memorable characters and relatable story of a fish-out-of-water story-line that connected audiences around the world. Though the fairy-tale ending, left little room for continuation, a sequel has now arrived 33 years after its predecessor.
While Craig Brewer has taken over the directing duties, after providing the much needed success to Eddie Murphy with Dolemite Is My Name (2019), he has also, surprisingly, considering such a long gap, has brought back most of the beloved original cast in parts both big and small, along with some well-known newcomers, high-profile cameos and eye-popping costumes.
While director Brewer has wholly embraced the nostalgia of its beloved predecessor, sadly, he has created a sequel that though enjoyable enough, does pale in comparison to the original. Yes, the first film was far from perfect, but it worked extremely well as a comedy, especially when it focused on a wide-eyed and naive Akeem navigating the streets of Queens.
Though director Brewer takes care to make sure that the film nods to modern sensibilities while retaining the comedy element, in the sense, if you laughed at the original, you’ll definitely laugh at this one, he does it as the expense of the story. Making the scenes feel more like elaborate sketch comedy pieces that don’t organically help the story or raise the stakes. Nevertheless, the charm of further exploring Zamunda, and the lingering veil of nostalgia, makes it a worthy return, even if not a great, follow-up to the original.
Set 30 years after the events of the first film, the story once again follows Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) who along with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and three young daughters, Princess Tinashe (Akiley Love), Princess Omma (Bella Murphy), and Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), continues to live the royal life. That is until his dying father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), disappointed by Akeem’s inability to produce a legitimate male offspring to inherit the throne, informs him that a he has an illegitimate son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), conceived during a hazy drug-fueled night with Mary (Leslie Jones) in Queens 30 years ago.
Now with General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), leader of Nextdoria, a rival country, at their door step looking to take over, Akeem, as a king, in order to honor his father’s wishes and the patriarchal tradition of his country, calls upon his aide and best friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and heads back to America.
Once they reach Queens, they also stop by the barbershop for a quick hello. This will no doubt be a welcome scene for fans, featuring Murphy and Hall in layers of make-up, slipping back into those hilarious character voices as if no time has passed at all. But as soon as you start to settle into the familiar routine, Lavelle and his mom are whisked back to Zamunda, where we spend the remainder of the film. With much of the runtime spent on Lavelle acclimating himself to the African kingdom and trying to prove that he’s a worthy heir to the Zamundan throne.
But as viewers start to get to really know the bastard prince, they realize that the plotline is somewhat of a distraction i.e. literally serving as Akeem’s political pawn in the film, but also acting as a bait and switch by the writers. The true theme of the film is about progression and doing things differently, but what follows takes a shaky path to arrive at that realization. Though each act of the film flows quickly, but there isn’t much of an opportunity to feel and understand the chemistry between characters, nor does it have the strong messaging and charisma of the ’80s original. There are also a couple of minor storylines that seem to get lost or magically resolved.
But the biggest major shortcoming of the sequel is its treatment of Meeka, Akeem’s eldest daughter who has worked her whole life to earn her birthright as the heir to Zamunda. Rather than her eventual vindication coming as a result of the film showcasing her brilliant skill set, the throne is simply given to her once Akeem’s plot with Lavelle is finally resolved. For a film whose ending was already predictable, the film could have done more work to ensure that the final plot twist felt as important as it was.
In one of the film’s most self-aware scenes, Lavelle talks to his royal barber and love interest Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) about the shortcomings of American cinema, saying, “What do we have besides superhero shit, remakes, and sequels to old films nobody asked for?” Funnily, this is one is literally one of those sequels, but thankfully, its shortcomings don’t bog it down completely to prevent it from being something enjoyable.
Its overall tone is silly and easy to buy into, with plenty of humorous moments sprinkled throughout the film. Some are welcome repetitions, like Cleo McDowell (John Amos) insisting that the McDowell McStuffin sandwich is nothing like the McDonald’s McMuffin sandwich. Even the elaborate and ridiculous Zamunda rituals from the first film are here, too. Early on in the film, King Jaffe Joffer has a “celebration” for himself. Not only is there a wide shot of crowds of beautifully dressed dancers, but a major ’90s R&B group shows up and starts performing, and then is joined by another major ’90s R&B group, all while the narration is carried out Morgan Freeman himself. It only gets more ridiculous from there.
Although it probably won’t be the funniest film that you see this year, the long-awaited sequel still has a charm and stylistic flair, hanks to wardrobe designer Ruth E. Carter that makes for a satisfying effort. Also right from the start, director Brewer, makes his commitment to the source material clear, as the film still basically being an opportunity for Eddie Murphy to cement his legacy as a showman, and to be fair, his proficiency with multiple characters has barely wavered. The same can be said for Arsenio Hall, who despite a comparatively smaller role yet, excels.
Jermaine Fowler doesn’t quite have the same charm as a young Eddie Murphy, but his chemistry with an equally competent Nomzamo Mbatha makes for a sweet love story that echoes the original. The veteran comprising of Shari Headley, John Amos, Paul Bates and James Earl Jones are still very likeable, while the newer cast comprising of Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Bella Murphy, Akiley Love, Rotimi and Vanessa Bell Calloway make for a welcome addition. On the whole, ‘Coming 2 America’ doesn’t entirely capture the magic of its predecessor, but will be satisfying enough for fans of the original.
Directed – Craig Brewer
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 110 minutes