CAST: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, KiKi Layne, Leslie Jones, Shari Headley, John Amos, Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones, Paul Bates, Louie Anderson, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Nomzamo Mbatha, Garcelle Beauvais
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
BASICALLY…: As he is about to become King of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer (Murphy) learns he has a grown son (Fowler) in America, who must be named the crown prince…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Before the days of The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle and – God help us – Norbit defined his career for a whole generation, Eddie Murphy’s star by far shone brightest in the 1980s, with the likes of 48 Hrs, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop all under his belt. Then, there was Coming To America, the late 80s box office hit which saw Murphy reunite with Trading Places director John Landis for a film which, even more than thirty years on, remains an audience favourite for its charm, humour and wildly loveable characters.
It’s sad to report, then, that Coming 2 America – where Murphy’s Dolemite Is My Name director Craig Brewer steps in for Landis – is nowhere near as good.
A much more pandering and overt comedy sequel, filled with rehashed jokes from the original as well as some obnoxious new ones, the film picks up thirty years on from when the first film left off; Akeem Joffer (Murphy), the crown prince of the African nation of Zamunda, is happily married to his American true love Lisa (Shari Headley), and has three daughters who, because of strict royal tradition, cannot inherit the throne. Before his father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones), passes away, he informs Akeem that he has a son he never knew about back in Queens, New York; as we learn, back then he was drugged and effectively raped by a horny woman named Mary (Leslie Jones), who later gave birth to Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). One quick trip to New York later, and Lavelle is brought back to Zamunda to learn the ways of the prince, before he must marry the daughter of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) of a neighbouring nation – and in case you couldn’t tell that Snipes and his army hailed from a next-door African country, they spell out numerously that THE PLACE THEY’RE FROM IS LITERALLY CALLED NEXTDORIA.
Oh, and before you ask: no, that whole rape thing is never brought up or even addressed once throughout the rest of the movie. That doesn’t just put a massive damper on this whole situation, not to mention ruin some of the original’s magic, but it also makes a lot of Leslie Jones and Eddie Murphy’s scenes together very uncomfortable; were the genders reversed, this would be akin to a psychological horror film, but I guess it gets a pass here because it was the woman doing the raping. That’s just what this movie does to extremely funny and talented people like Murphy and Jones, by pairing them with floundering material that, try their best, they cannot make work, so much so that it becomes increasingly unpleasant to see them bombing this hard in front of a camera. This is a script that relies heavily on frequent call-backs to the original Coming To America, so much so that at one point the movie stops dead to just show clips from that film, which feel forced and way too self-aware to genuinely work, and that’s not even beginning to mention a lot of the extremely dated topical jokes that it puts forward whenever it’s not reminding you of the much better first movie (references to the Kardashians and Black Panther are among them, as are multiple cameos from the likes of Gladys Knight and Morgan Freeman, all in the same scene no less).
I would put this vastly inferior script down to a new set of writers, but original scribes Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield returned for this movie too (then again, there is the possibility that new co-writer Kenya Barris – known for the show Black-ish and writing films like Girls Trip and Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches – added all that obnoxious flare on top of their contributions). It’s also a disappointing turnaround for director Craig Brewer, who’s just coming off the excellent Dolemite Is My Name along with Murphy, because the way that this film is shot, edited, framed etc, it barely feels like it belongs in the same universe as John Landis’ first movie. There is something quite ugly about the glossy digital look that this movie has, with wildly extravagant costumes by Oscar-winner Ruth E. Carter which are sadly more eyesores than impressive fashion designs, in addition to some noticeably bad CGI animals roaming around like pixelated rejects from the recent Lion King remake. When you look at Landis’ film, there was real weight to some of its New York cinematography, and the set designs of Zamunda looked and felt realistic enough to pass as the real thing; in Coming 2 America, it’s way more noticeable how everything from the sets to the costumes to the cinematography have been scrubbed up to match today’s glossier expectations, and it appears that any traces of the original’s soul has been gravely sacrificed in order to let that happen.
One of the few nice things I can say about the film, though, is that the actors at the very least look like they’re enjoying themselves. Eddie Murphy is clearly giving his all to his rather thinly-written character (as he does to the multiple other ones he portrays here), while others like Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and John Amos are definitely having fun as their characters. On the flipside, though, other holdovers like Arsenio Hall and Shari Headley are barely given anything to do here other than just show up and, in Hall’s case, also play multiple characters who stole scenes in the first film, while James Earl Jones is literally left to die on-screen during a tonally-messy scene filled with extravagant dance numbers and celebrity cameos.
Fans of the original Coming To America will be better off sticking to their beloved original, for what Coming 2 America manages to bring is the same movie, but far less funny, wholesome or even pleasant. As an Eddie Murphy sequel, it’s still far better than something like Beverly Hills Cop 3 or Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, but not by much; either way, it’s a major disappointment that’s well below its royal predecessor.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Coming 2 America is a majorly disappointing sequel to the classic Eddie Murphy comedy which relies far too heavily on rehashed jokes and obnoxious topical humour to generate any endearing humour, and adopts a far too glossy and rather ugly digital look to feel like it even belongs in the same universe as the original.