Film Review: Coming 2 America
Coming 2 America
Director: Craig Brewer
Eddie Murphy Productions
Steaming on Amazon Prime 03.05
I’m definitely not in the crowd that feels that Eddie Murphy has diminished a classic by making a cash-grab sequel with Coming 2 America. However, a big part of my reason for feeling that way is that I think that the original Coming to America is a self-indulgent and stupid vanity piece that had a few mildly memorable moments, but it was never a good film. And it has aged about as well an open can of spam.
In the imaginatively titled Coming 2 America, Prince Akeem of Zamunda (Murphy) is summoned before his dying father (James Earl Jones) to discuss the issue of the passing of the crown and the concern that Akeem, the father of three daughters, has no male heir, or so he believes. The King and his shaman, Baba (Arsenio Hall in very heavy and vaguely racist makeup), reveal to a baffled Akeem that he sired a son during his first visit in Queens, New York, 30 years ago.
It seems that while Akeem was clubbing with his right-hand man, Semmi (Arsenio Hall not in makeup), the latter brought two women back to their room, and one of them drugged Akeem, resulting in a forgotten liaison. Akeem, left with little choice, decides to go back to America to find his son in order to prevent a violent takeover by Zamunda’s militaristic neighboring nation, Nextdoria, which is lead by a ruthless if dapper dictator, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes).
Akeem and Semmi travel to Queens, where they find Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler, Superior Donuts, Crashing), a streetwise ticket scalper who jumps at the opportunity to inherit a life of luxury. But once they return to Zamunda, Lavelle must pass a series of traditional tests to prove he is worthy. Meanwhile, Akeem’s eldest daughter, Meeka (KiKi Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Old Guard) looks on in frustration from the sidelines.
Director Craig Brewer helmed Murphy’s recent triumph, Dolemite is My Name, and he’s an interesting filmmaker when he’s got his mojo working, having also given us Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. But he’s also the guy who, for some reason, made a remake of Footloose. Apparently, he has a weakness for revisiting ’80’s properties that never should have been made once, let alone twice. Coming 2 America isn’t without its sporadic moments and minor charms, and it kind of hits its awkward stride somewhere in the middle of the second act, but it’s never anything more than a variation on the first film with the edges dulled down and host to a ridiculous number of labored Lion King references.
While these references play off the fact that Jones was the voice of Mufasa, they don’t seem to know how to reference the fact that the late Madge Sinclair, who played Akeem’s mother in the first film, was also the voice of Sarabi. The real irony is that the casting of Akeem’s parents in The Lion King may well have been a subtle and far more clever Coming to America in-joke than anything that Coming 2 America tries to do in return. But at least it’s less awkward repeated references to the Royal Bathers, the bevy of sexy women charged cleaning the Prince daily in his spacious bath, and who were—I’m going to say—“more fully implemented” in the R-Rated original, but are brought up as often as possible in the softer sequel in an attempt to remind the men watching why it is that they had such a fondness for the movie when they were pubescent teens.
Murphy has been worse, but he’s been a lot better, and his performance as Akeem is quite bland. He puts more enthusiasm into his heavy-makeup character cameos, but those were a pointless and obnoxious element in the first film and are even more so here. Hall was never particularly good at those characters and is given far too much screentime with them. Fowler is charismatic, as are Nomzamo Mbatha as Mirembe, Jermaine’s obligatory love interest, and Layne as Princess Meeka. But the scene-stealer and the only truly entertaining element of the film is Snipes, showing off his comic chops, acutely aware that this opportunity to remind people that he was once known as a presence that could ignite the screen is not to be wasted.
But the rather lazy script and the cutesy, self-conscious “this isn’t a movie; it’s an anniversary special” tone doesn’t allow anyone a chance to really shine.
Coming 2 America rises easy enough to get through most of the time, which is about as strong a recommendation as I can muster for this head-scratching exercise in redundancy that absolutely no one was asking for. But I won’t be viewing it a second time, and I’d be pretty surprised to hear that anyone else is doing so. –Patrick Gibbs