Coming 2 America and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios
Directed by Craig Brewer
Coming to America is not a movie I have much nostalgia for. I didn’t see it until I was well into my twenties and while I found it amusing it wasn’t exactly an all-time classic for me, so while I’m not giddy with anticipation to see where Prince Akeem ended up thirty years later, I shouldn’t be particularly bummed if it doesn’t live up to the original. Frankly, the Eddie Murphy from my childhood peaked with Dr. Doolittle as I didn’t see any of his classic movies until I was much older, and it’s only been in the last few years that he’s buckled down and tried to be more discerning with his roles so perhaps this will take to heart the harsh lessons he learned over the last few decades and will actually be something true to the spirit of the original and to the comedy legend that he was at the time! Yeah okay, I don’t think that’s going to be the case either (especially with them putting a 2 in the title), but let’s find out!!
Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy), the soon to be king of Zamunda, has been living the last thirty years in luxury and bliss with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters (KiKi Layne, Bella Murphy, and Akiley Love) in the beautiful palace that I’m sure is not an opulent eyesore and a constant reminder of wealth inequality in the region! Surely not when they are being menaced by the neighboring warlord General izzi (Wesley Snipes) who wants his own son to be married to Akeem’s oldest. After all, the law says No Chicks Allowed and therefore a woman can’t be the leader, so perhaps Akeem’s happy little life is about to get quite complicated. As luck would have it however, the King (James Earl Jones) has been keeping a secret from Akeem as it turns out he has a son living in Queens that he conceived during his trip there thirty odd years ago. Must have happened when we weren’t looking I guess. We were probably all getting more popcorn. So Akeem, with the help of his loyal aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall) must return to the United States and bring his son back to be groomed as the next Prince and eventual heir to the throne; something that doesn’t sit right with his eldest daughter who was hoping to find a way to ascend to the throne as well as his wife who’s a bit perturbed that he conceived a child about a week before they started dating. His son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) has his own reservations as it’s a pretty sweet deal to be plucked out of obscurity to become a big shot, but being a Prince isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be even if it means the easy life for his mother (Leslie Jones) and his uncle (Tracy Morgan). Will Prince Akeem be able to ascend to the throne as King with a competent heir by his side, or will the culture shock for Lavelle be too great for him and his family to handle? What will General Izzi do now that his master scheme is about to be unraveled, and will Lavelle suffer the consequences of his newly found father’s machinations? Or will it be about none of that and everyone will spend most of the movie spouting lines from the first one?
Right off the bat, I’m just gonna let you know that this movie is not good. It genuinely feels like they dug this thing out of some movie producer’s basement where it was left to rot since the 2005. It just has a plastic and unreal feeling to it that were in a lot of comedies around that time; not QUITE at the Friedberg and Seltzer parody level of artifice, but more like the the heyday of Happy Madison with movies like The Hot Chick and The Benchwarmers. Heck, you could certainly draw comparisons to Murphy’s own output at the time like Pluto Nash, Norbit, and Meet Dave, but if I’m being honest here… I didn’t really mind it. Even without any real nostalgia for the original film, there’s something at least a little bit comforting about seeing something that feels familiar and kind of retro, but whatever warm and fuzzies I was feeling were vastly overshadowed by how little impact the whole thing had on me. I sat there in a daze as the movie jumped from one thing to another without much focus or structure; waiting for it to finish retelling jokes from the first movie and then rolling my eyes as it found a few more later on. Still, it’s fun seeing Arsenio Hall again! Where’s THAT guy been!?
I’m not even sure I can come up with detailed or interesting reasons why this movie is just kind of underwhelming. I mean it’s kind of hard to say that they did anything WRONG here when it’s pretty much exactly what they wanted it to be. It’s just a retread of the first movie; hitting all the same jokes like we haven’t seen them already in a movie that frankly had its own flaws too! The opening act of the first movie feels broad and indulgent in a way that grows tiresome which can be forgiven because Akeem’s weariness is the driving motivation for him to go to America, but they doubled down on it here and so a huge portion of this move is just doing those bits again. There was one musical number at the start of that movie, so let’s just do three of them here! I mean heck, as much as I like seeing Louie Anderson again (I wasn’t even sure that dude was still alive), all he is show up so that we can recognize him; as does McDowell’s, Princess Imani, the barber shop, even James Earl Jones who’s just on hand to lay down and eventually die so they can check that box off of the list! Does any of it work? I mean a LITTLE bit at least. As I said, there’s a bit of warm fuzziness to the retro nature of this movie, but all of these shallow callbacks come at the expense of the new story.
Then again, the new story isn’t exactly fresh either. I’m pretty sure half the plot and dialogue is lifted from The Princess Diaries as Akeem’s estranged son has to learn to become a proper prince which involves a lot of goofy stunts like trimming the whiskers off a lion and learning to walk with a tight buttocks. Jermaine Fowler gives the role what he can, but there’s just not much to his character despite how rich of a premise it is! A black kid living in poverty in the US snatched up to become a prince of an African country is rife with possibilities and there’s a lot of interesting dynamics to explore; like a toned down version of what killmonger represented. Instead, he’s just kind of there to do fish out of water humor and the only things this movie seems to have learned from Black Panther is some of its costume design. There’s a scene with him and his bride to be that is lifted word for word from the scene of Eddie Murphy with Imani in the first movie where he explains that he wants to know SOMETHING about her, and the scene is bitterly humorous because I was asking the same thing about him. Sadly he’s not the only one to suffer from an underweight script as Wesley’s Snipe’s caricature of an African warlord could be densely layered and interesting but ends up being little more than a comedic foil. Samuel L Jackson with a shotgun was SO much more intimidating in the first movie than he is with a whole squadron of army dudes here, and so a character that SHOULD be a threat and a source of genuine tension (while still being wacky and funny) is instead left to dangle by a narrative that can barely summon the will to stay on track for more than fifteen minutes.
The saving grace of the movie, aside from the occasional warm fuzzy of nostalgia, is that some of the jokes do land. Leslie Jones, and to a lesser extent Tracy Morgan, are easily the funniest people in the movie; where everything else feels so tired and dated, they bring a lot of life and humor to the movie with their wacky antics. It’s certainly nothing we haven’t seen from them before, but I’ll take their shtick over the ceaseless repetition of jokes here any day of the week. I also really like Arsenio Hall who stole the first movie and does a fine job here as well. He’s not quite up to the level he was at in the first one, but his presence is very much appreciated and he has some great moments throughout this. Eddie Murphy as well does fine in his part; not a particularly inspiring performance like he gave in Dolemite Is My Name, but not a total embracement like… well pretty much everything else he did before that. There really aren’t any bad performances in this; just a lot of characters underutilized like Akeem’s daughters, Lavelle’s eventual love interest, and even Lisa’s dad who was such a bright spot of the first film but is relegated to two scenes set FAR away from anything that’s actually happening in the movie.
I wish this movie had at least SOME ambition and a fair bit more discipline behind it, but it looks like everyone involved was just happy to relive the old days so that’s what we got; one big celebration for the old timers and the people who remember them in their heyday. There’s SOME value in that and the movie never made me angry or particularly annoyed, but it also didn’t make me laugh all that much and it was hard to stay awake in it. I’ll be slightly generous here and say that if you are a fan of the first one then it’s worth giving a shot. Even if you only throw it on to have in the background between doing other stuff like tidying up or watching funny cat videos, there’s perhaps enough decent chuckles and a few nostalgic smiles to make it worth it, though I wouldn’t expect anyone to watch this more than once. It’s no Coming to America, and I don’t even consider that to be particularly high praise, but it’s novel enough that it can waste just under two hours of your time without cursing Amazon for stealing precious moments of your life away. No, that’s what you do when you end up watching The Little Things on HBO Max.