The thing about Coming to America is that it just never gets old. Released more than 30 years ago, it remains highly enjoyable, damned funny, and features Eddie Murph and Arsenio Hall at their absolute best. The tragedy is that we didn’t get more of them together, and have had to wait so long to see them reunited in Coming 2 America. While the long-awaited sequel can’t hold a candle to its predecessor, it works really well when leaning hard into nostalgia, not so much when trying anything new.
Let’s be honest, though: If you’re eager to see Coming 2 America then you probably are one of those who hold the original dear to your heart, as I and many others do. And you’re probably just hopeful that it isn’t TERRIBLE, the kind of awful sequel that flushes good childhood memories down the drain. Well, it’s definitely not that. Amazon Prime has an easy-to-watch comedy hit on its hands, even if in a year we might have forgotten about this return trip to Zumunda.
Coming 2 America differs from the first movie in that it takes place almost entirely in the fictional African nation of Zumunda. And yes, there is joke about Wakanda also being a fictional place, in order to stay relevant and such. Murphy returns as Prince Akeem, who is soon to take over as King from his dying father (a returning James Earl Jones). Thirty years ago, Akeem was a pampered prince who bucked tradition, flew to America, and found himself a wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), who remains with him and is mother to his three strong-willed daughters, all Shuri look-alikes. But that’s a problem, because in Zumunda the crown can only be passed to a son. That means Akeem must consider marrying off his eldest daughter Meeka (Kiki Layne) to the idiot son of warring tribal chief General Izzi (Wesley Snipes).
Akeem is still gifted, or some would say afflicted, with his right-hand man, Semmi (Hall), whose incompetence rears its ugly head again. We come to learn that decades ago, Semmi got the prince roped into a drug-induced one-night stand with Mary (Leslie Jones), and fathered her son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), a resourceful kid who might be the perfect heir to the Zumundan throne.
The film dives into flashbacks and twists itself into knots to make sure Akeem doesn’t look like he “sewed his royal oats” while in New York the first time around. These scenes are also distracting because of the shoddy de-aging CGI that makes Murphy and Hall look like extras from a Robert Zemeckis movie.
But no matter when the movie takes place, the best jokes hit when Murphy and Hall are together on screen. Jokes are piled high and come at a mile a minute, much like the first movie did. As usual, Murphy and Hall take on multiple roles and aren’t worried about logic when they do. They return as the rowdy barbershop characters who appear to have not aged a day, and they are considerably less-impressed by Akeem’s royalty now than they were before. Cameos are everywhere, as well, from Gladys Knight to Morgan Freeman to Colin Jost (as a racist hiring manager), and if you were hoping for a little “Sexual Chocolate”, Coming 2 America does not disappoint. Pretty much every character we know and love returns, and all get their moment to shine. None more so than Snipes, who was such a stand-out opposite Murphy in Dolemite is my Name, and steals every scene here as the cocky, warmongering Izzi.
However, when the plot gets going it loses quite a bit of steam. Putting a twist on the fish-out-of-water narrative we’re accustomed to, Akeem finds his long-lost son and returns him to Zumunda to be his heir. That also means forcing the boy to marry the sexy-but-subservient daughter of General Izzi in order to avoid all-out-war. All of this happens while Akeem’s highly-qualified daughter sits on the sidelines, which pisses off Lisa who thought her husband to be more progressive.
The patriarchal aspect of Coming to America may have felt normal in 1988 but in 2021 it gets the shredding it deserves, with Lisa taking Akeem and all of Zumunda down a few pegs with a blistering speech. The film relies heavily on flipping aspects of the first movie on their head, but one area where it doesn’t work is having the street smart Junson family (including Tracy Morgan as Lavelle’s uncle) get the Zumundan royal treatment. It was funny to see spoiled, entitled Akeem get his hands dirty with blue-collar jobs in New York City, but the reverse? There’s simply not as much humor in Lavelle and his family being showered with riches and misunderstanding the honor and tradition of the African nation that affords it to them. While the “royal bathers” bit is still great, there’s little about Lavelle’s storyline that makes us want to follow him and not Akeem. A romantic subplot involving Lavelle and an insightful royal barber has no chemistry at all, and feels like a half-hearted effort to mirror the original’s love story. Coming 2 America would’ve been better if it had left the new son angle behind and simply followed Akeem as he juggled fatherhood with the duties of being king.
The film is directed by Craig Brewer, who brought music and energy to films such as Dolemite is my Name, Hustle & Flow, and Black Snake Moan. This isn’t the most dynamic thing Brewer has done, and he seems to be coasting on autopilot here, letting his cast do most of the heavy lifting. When you’ve got a genius like Murphy who can find the humor in just about anything, that’s a pretty good idea.
Will Coming 2 America have the staying power of the first film? Doubtful, but it’s a genuine treat to see Murphy, Hall, and all of these great actors slip so easily back into their roles. They’re clearly having a blast, but more importantly, they really want to make this movie fun for those who have been waiting such a long time for it. The level of dedication and appreciation for the fans that Murphy brings to Coming 2 America is infectious.
Coming 2 America hits Amazon Prime Video on March 5th.