Published on March 8th, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant0
Coming 2 America
For some reason, we now have a sequel to the Eddie Murphy hit, Coming to America. It’s messy, but there are laughs to be had.
In grade six, my friends and I used to huddle around a tape deck and listen to Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, trying to keep our laughter contained so his parents wouldn’t kick the door down like a swat team to raid our inappropriate comedy den. Between stand-up sets like Delirious and Raw and movies like Beverly Hills Cop (which holds up very well), Eddie Murphy became one of my guiding lights of comedy. He’s also the reason I swear so much. In ‘88, he released Coming to America, which isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but was higher up on the spectrum of quality for his movies of that period.
Of course, Murphy’s output was uneven in the 90s and took a nosedive in the 2000s with a string of horrible misfires. He was raising a family in this time — the dude has 10 kids! The bad boy of comedy turned family man started making movies with good premises like The Haunted Mansion and Daddy Day Care — he just forgot to bring the laughs with him. And after some colossal failures like Pluto Nash, he sort of disappeared for a decade.
We’ve seen him reappear in the last couple of years with projects like Dolemite, and now Coming 2 America. Beverly Hills Cop 4 is on the way as well, so it seems like he’s at least partially willing to go back to the well for sequels we didn’t ask for (which is a meta joke in Coming 2 America).
In Coming to America, he played Prince Akeem of the fictional and prosperous African country Zamunda. He grows weary of his pampered lifestyle and wants to find a queen that he can fall in love with, not one that just does what he says because he’s the patriarch. Along the way, he and his sidekick Semmi, played by Arsenio Hall, meet a host of strange and hilarious characters, many of them played by the duo with heavy make-up, a hallmark Murphy would continue in subsequent years.
In Coming 2 America, James Earl Jones’ King Jaffe Joffer sends him on a mission to America to find the male heir that can continue their royal lineage — even though Akeem has three brilliant, strong daughters that could fit the bill. Akeem and Semmi find Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and bring him back to teach him how to be a prince. Political intrigue and personal relationships ensue, including a threat from a military leader played by Wesley Snipes.
I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for Coming 2 America, but I was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say it isn’t a messy movie, rife with issues (like a pretty tone-deaf rape scene that’s just lazy writing). But it did the main thing a comedy is supposed to do, which is make me laugh. I’ll add that rather than giving it the confusing name that is indistinguishable from the original’s name unless you’re seeing it in print, they should have just called it Coming to Zamunda. Most of the movie happens in Zamunda anyway.
There are a lot of modern jokes that work well and in fact, could have even been drilled down on further. There’s a funny scene where Lavelle calls out Colin Jost on his casual racism. There are jokes about gentrification in Queens, which has been taken over by Starbucks and nail spas since Akeem and Semmi were there last. And there are even a couple of #metoo jokes that play both sides of the fence well. The old guy at the barber shop gets to say something a bit naughty by today’s politically correct standards, only to be hilariously rebuffed by a more progressive Akeem.
As the movie goes on, cracks start to appear. A lot of the characters get lost in the mix. The movie has a large desire to be feminist, with several female characters exposing the patriarchy in Zamunda. But those same characters — Queen Lisa (Shari Headley), the eldest daughter Meeka (Kiki Layne), and Lavelle’s love interest Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) are all compelling characters that get shoved aside as the plot makes way for Lavelle. In fact, Lavelle even pushes Eddie and Arsenio out of the way.
And Mirembe could have been a good character, a woman with her own mind like Lisa in the original, but instead she comes off as a double agent honeypot of some sort, always dangling love in front of Lavelle to slyly convince him to act against the crown. Lavelle’s actions under her influence could also be seen as a metaphor for the Americanization of Zamunda, but perhaps I’m driving off into the bushes here instead of keeping it in the dumb fun comedy realm. The bottom line is, if they wanted to do the Indiana Jones Shia LeBoeuf pass the torch thing (because that worked out so well), then this should have been Meeka’s movie.
I have to also mention the look of the movie. First of all, the royal palace is apparently a real place — Rick Ross’ house, formerly owned by Evander Hollyfield as well. But I really want to talk about the costumes, which are beautiful and creative. Watching Princess Meeka in one particular sporty looking outfit, I realized that it had a Puma logo on it. It was royal African sportswear. And an armband that said, “democracy” spoke to her character in huge ways. It looked great. Some of the costumes in the dance sequences are stunning as well. In fact, I wanted to hate the idea of those shoe-horned in dance sequences, but they were just so well-done, with such big energy, that I bought in.
Coming 2 America is mostly a formulaic rehash of the first movie, with some old characters dropping by for fan service. It’s inferior to the first movie, mostly by virtue of being so overcomplicated; the first one had a simple high concept that it stuck to well.
But even with some of the issues, I think it was true to the original in tone. As I said, Coming to America was a goofy comedy with some heart, but not a masterpiece of some kind. Coming 2 America didn’t need to exist, but I’d be lying if said I wasn’t happy to watch Eddie being funny again, even if he is in danger of becoming and afterthought in his own movie. Overall, I enjoyed it, so when I think of garbage, I won’t think of Akeem.