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Coming 2 America (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


Starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Teyana Taylor, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Paul Bates, Nomzamo Mbatha, Bella Murphy, Garcelle Beauvais, Louie Anderson, Colin Jost, Trevor Noah, Dikembe Mutombo, Rick Ross, John Legend, En Vogue, Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Gladys Knight and Morgan Freeman.

Screenplay by Kenya Barris and Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield.

Directed by Craig Brewer.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Eddie Murphy has spent the last few decades resisting returning to the story of Prince Akeem of Zamunda, the basis of his popular 1988 romantic comedy Coming to America. He has long insisted that he would only do a sequel if they could figure out a way to do justice to the characters and story.

And this is what he came up with?

Coming 2 America isn’t a horrible film, but it’s certainly not a good one, either. On the surface, it is a celebration of the original movie (which was good, but probably not quite as good as you remember) with nearly all the original living cast members. It shares Easter eggs for the fans and updates of the love story, but in the long run the movie feels too cartoonish and kind of falls flat.

Part of the problem with the film is a simple one. The title is misleading; there is very little America here. I get that the name is a cutesy way to show it is a sequel, but honestly there are just two short jaunts to America in Coming 2 America, making up about 20 to 30 minutes of total screen time. That changes the whole comic vibe of the franchise – instead of African characters being fishes out of water in Queens, New York, the characters from Queens are fishes out of water in the fictional African nation of Zamunda.

Instead, the movie should be called America Coming 2 Africa. I recognize that is an awkward title, but it is much more accurate to the plot. The problem is, the scenes in the African homeland were the least interesting parts of the original film, and now it is the main thrust of the new movie.

It misses so many comic opportunities brought forth by the changes in Queens in the 33 years since the original came out. Although gentrification is briefly mentioned in the same old funky barber shop from the original film (how do they pay their rent in the pre-COVID new millennium?) and the narrative briefly nods towards the changes, the Queens they show hasn’t really changed all that much. That includes the people in the barber shop – many of whom are played by Murphy and Hall under lots of makeup – who do not appear to have aged a day since the original. (This is especially vexing about Murphy’s old Jewish man character, who was nearly at death’s door over 30 years ago but is still apparently barely holding on.)

The story of Coming 2 America is rather simple. The King of Zamunda (James Earl Jones) is at death’s door and Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is due to become King. However, he and his wife Lisa (Shari Headley), whose romance made up the original film, have three daughters, leaving the soon-to-be King Akeem without any male heirs to ascend to the throne when Akeem also passes. (Zamundan laws and traditions insist on a king, not a queen, to run the country.)

This is when Akeem learns from a witch doctor that he did have a son – from a barely remembered drug-fueled one-night stand during his original trip to the United States. Akeem decides to return to the US to find his heir (Jermaine Fowler) and bring him back to eventually rule the country – much to the ire of his daughters. Of course, the newly discovered prince comes with his own baggage, he’s a small-time scam artist with an eccentric family led by Saturday Night Live vets Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan.

Like I said earlier, much of the comedy – as it is – in the new film revolves around the streetwise New Yorkers learning the luxurious ways of the Zamundan castle. There is a return to the subplot of the original film – the new prince is being set up for a loveless arranged marriage for political reasons, but he just wants to find the woman who is right for him.

Eventually Akeem, who has grown somewhat softened and spoiled by 30 years of royal luxury, comes to remember how idealistic he once was about love and possibilities. Coming 2 America basically looks at the original plot through a funhouse mirror, but it mostly loses the “fun” part.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: March 5, 2021.


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