Coming 2 America Review
Back in the summer of 1989, CBS aired a one-and-done TV pilot for a proposed Coming to America TV series, following on from the then-recent feature and starring Tommy Davidson as Tariq, younger brother of the movie’s Prince Akeem, with Paul Bates reprising his role as manservant Oha. I only bring the TV show up because its mere existence assures that Coming 2 America is not the worst follow-up to the original film. That’s right, 33 years later, Eddie Murphy is back in his royal finery for a belated sequel whose title is the most original thing about it.
And while it’s nice to see Murphy give his Zamundan accent another whirl alongside returning co-stars Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, and James Earl Jones, the resultant effort is painless enough but feels less like an essential add-on to a fairly beloved original than a by-the-numbers byproduct of Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for pumping out pre-existing brands in slightly new configurations.
Making its debut this week on Amazon Prime, Coming 2 America picks up thirty years after Prince Akeem tied the knot with his American love, Lisa. Now the proud father of three girls, Akeem is getting ready to ascend to the throne himself. However, when Akeem learns he fathered a child during his visit to Queens that one time (before he met Lisa, mind you), the traditional Zamundan order of kingly succession is potentially thrown into disarray.
And with an impending invasion from neighboring Nextdoria (led by Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi) on his mind, Akeem once more hops a plane to the States alongside trusted aide Semmi (Hall) to bring his long lost son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and Lavelle’s mom (and Akeem’s one-time one night stand) Mary, played by Leslie Jones, back to Zamunda to educate them in the royal ways. What follows is the usual fish-out-of-water antics, albeit in reverse, with Lavelle struggling to adapt to Zamundan life while finding himself maneuvered into the same kind of arranged marriage his pop tried to avoid 30 years ago.
To the film’s credit, there are some fun bits interspersed throughout thanks to the likable Fowler, the dependable Jones, and Tracy Morgan along for the ride as Lavelle’s uncle. But the shame of it is that Murphy re-teaming with his I Am Dolemite director Craig Brewer, working from a script by, among others, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris offered the promise of more. Sadly, Headley’s Lisa is the character who feels most left by the wayside in the various plot machinations, and it’s jarring to see the character who was the entire focus of Akeem’s story the first time shunted off to the side like a glorified supporting character.
While there is a very much appreciated effort to reframe some of the first film’s more glaringly sexist tropes from a post-millennium perspective, what Coming 2 America proves more than anything is how treacherous the terrain can be when making comedy sequels. More often than not they sidestep working to create their own laughs in favor of continuing comedic riffs begun in the initial entry. It’s the cinematic equivalent of playing “Freebird” to a full house, and it’s also where the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents sequels fell down.
Remember McDowell’s restaurant? Now they’re open in Zamunda! And look, there’s Akeem’s would-be bride from the first one (Vanessa Bell Calloway), still barking like a dog! And the Queens barbershop trio (played by Murphy, Hall, and Clint Smith) is back too along with lusty Reverend Brown (played by Hall). The whole movie goes like that, with any attempt at a fully-formed story taking a backseat to a roster of familiar faces and places aimed at firing the nostalgia neurons of its audience.
This isn’t to say it’s not fun to see, mind you. After all, how could it not be fun having Murphy and Hall back in makeup as the various characters they played in addition to their Zamundan alter egos, or to see John Amos and Louie Anderson back working at McDowall’s? But too often Coming 2 America feels like a checklist of familiar elements deemed necessary to bring back or risk the ire of longtime fans asking, “Hey, whatever happened to…?” (Sadly, we miss out on an encore from Eriq La Salle as Jheri-curled Darryl.)
To some extent, this is understandable after thirty-plus years of that first film’s gags taking on iconic status, but the whole thing takes on a “Very Brady Christmas” vibe after a while, with the eager desire to replay familiar beats robbing the sequel of its freshness. Akeem having an American son he never knew about isn’t so much a natural outgrowth of where the original left off than a necessary sop to the sequel gods, to allow a different-but-similar refresh of the premise.
It tells you something that the screenwriters felt it necessary to concoct an entire “lost” scene existing between the frames of the original (complete with some impressive Marvel-style de-aging CGI on Murphy and Hall) to make the essential story beat work, and even then it only does so because of the game efforts from both Murphy and Fowler (who I’ve enjoyed since his run on the short-lived CBS sitcom Superior Donuts). Both actors are great together and deserved a better canvas to act against.
Coming at the tail end of a remarkable run of box office success for Murphy during the 1980s, Coming to America has remained a fairly beloved entry in the star’s catalog even this many years later so it’s easy to see why home studio Paramount pulled the trigger on this second installment. Murphy remains in fine form, as does Hall. And while there’s little else in this sequel to justify its existence as anything other than a decades-too-late cash grab, there’s something to be said for the simple pleasures of visiting with Akeem and the other inhabitants of Zamunda once again.
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