Coming 2 AmericaReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/05/21 07:44:15
In the wake of the enormous amount of critical acclaim and audience goodwill generated by his brilliant performance as Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite is My Name” and his Emmy-winning stint hosting “Saturday Night Live,” one might have hoped that Eddie Murphy would have used the resurgent interest in his career to do more original and challenging projects—at least more ore original and challenging than the array of unnecessary sequels/remakes, puerile family films and assorted instantly forgettable comedies that inexplicably made up the majority of his filmography. Alas, if “Coming 2 America,” the long-awaited sequel to his 1988 favorite and his first post-“Dolemite” film, is any indication, it appears that those hopes have already been somewhat dashed upon the rocks of mild laziness and empty nostalgia.In the first film, you will recall, Murphy played Akeem, the prince of the prosperous African country of Zamunda (essentially the Wakanda of its time) who has grown discontented with his pampered and privileged existence. When his parents announce that he is to partake in an arranged marriage to a woman he has never met before, he finally rebels and elects to fly off to America in search of a bride who will love him for himself, not his status, while still remaining an independent free thinker. He and his loyal servant, Sammi (Arsenio Hall), eventually land in Queens where Akeem falls in love with local Lisa ((Shari Headley) and takes a job at McDowells, the ersatz fast-food restaurant owned by her father (John Amos) while trying to woo her. Although perhaps not the classic that some have made it out to be over time—it does go on a bit too long for its own good—but Murphy proved to be exceptionally winning in a role different from the brasher characters that he had become famous for playing and he and Hall turned up in a number of hilarious cameos while hidden under the elaborate creations of makeup expert Rick Baker.
As the sequel opens, Akeem and Lisa are still married and living in Zamunda, where they are raising their three daughters—Meeka (Kiki Layne), Tinashe (Akiley Love) and Omma (Bella Murphy)—and waiting for the inevitable moment when he will inherit the throne from his dying father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones). According to Zamunda law, only a male heir can rule the land, a decree that alienates Meeka, who has basically been training since infancy to rule, and inspires the mad General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the leader of a neighboring country, to try to force through an arranged marriage so that he can share in Zamunda’s wealth. However, before passing, King Jaffe stuns Akeem with the revelation that he actually has fathered a son—the result of a long-forgotten and chemically enhanced one-night stand back in Queens before he met Lisa—and while the child may be a bastard, that is good enough to rule.
Akeem and Sammi return to Queens and eventually track down his son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), an ambitious hustler who is still living at home with his mother, Mary (Leslie Jones), and informs him that he is to be the future king. This sounds acceptable enough to Lavelle and he and Mary return with Akeem to begin his training to be seen as worthy of the crown. Needless to say, their arrival does not sit well with many people—Lisa is naturally upset, Meeka is outraged that this clown will get the position of power that she deserves because of a quirk of genetics and Izzi is annoyed that is plan has been scuttled. While Lisa and Meeka eventually learn to accept the newcomers, Izzi now tries to lure Lavelle into a marriage with his own sexy and compliant daughter (Teyana Taylor) to at least solidify his power. While Akeem seems agreeable to this, Lavelle isn’t so sure—in the meantime, he has met royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) and fallen in love with her to the point where he is willing to renounce the throne and head back to Queens with her to live a simple life based upon love.
The problem with doing a sequel to a film like “Coming to America” is that it told a complete, fully-rounded story with an eminently satisfying conclusion that neither needed nor warranted a continuation for anything other than the most mercenary of reasons. At some point, this realization must have hit the creators of this film because the end result is little more than a collection of sitcom-level contrivances and outright rehashes of elements from the first film included on the assumption that if it worked the first time around, it will be just as effective here. Yes, it is nice to see the old guys in the barbershop again, still kvetching after all these years, but wouldn’t it have been nicer and funnier if Murphy and Hall had devised a whole new group of characters to play this time around? Even the best jokes lose some of their luster the second time around and that is certainly the case here. As for the stuff involving Lavelle and his quest for love, it turns out to be powerfully uninteresting since he has not been particularly well developed as a character and we therefor do not care what happens to him.
As it goes on, it becomes fairly clear that “Coming 2 America: is not so much a fully fleshed-out narrative as it is a cinematic victory lap for Murphy in the wake of the renewed interest in his career and legacy in the wake of “Dolemite is My Name.” If nothing else, he clearly seems to be having fun returning to the role of Akeem (not to mention the various supporting characters) and you never get any sense of the going-through-the-motions vibe that anyone who has seen the likes of “Metro” or “A Thousand Words” will instantly recognize. And yet, while there is energy to spare from him, there is little in the way of genuine inspiration as he goes through the old bits by rote. The rest of the cast members making return appearances just seem happy to be there as well. Among the new people, I did like Layne as Meeka—her character is the most interesting of the additions and should have been expanded—and Snipes certainly goes all in as Izzi, who answers the question “What would have happened if Idi Amin and Sly Stone had a child together?” Meanwhile, Fowler is just kind of bland and forgettable as Lavelle while Jones and Tracy Jordan (as Lavelle’s wacky uncle) do their usual schtick to increasingly little avail.Although the hype surrounding it might have led some viewers to think that it was something a little more ambitious, “Coming 2 America” is just an unabashed retread that accomplishes little more than reminding viewers of how much they liked the first film. If all you want from it is two hours of unabashed fan service, then you might wind up enjoying it, though you would probably be better off just watching the original again. Anyone expecting more from either the film or Murphy, on the other hand, is bound to come away from it somewhat disappointed. Lord knows it isn’t Murphy’s worst film by a long shot—it is far too innocuous to get too upset over—and if “Dolemite is My Name” hadn’t come along, it might have come across a little better. Now that he has gotten this out of his system, I hope that Murphy will focus on doing more projects that will both challenge him and make use of his still-considerable talents and leave lazy paycheck gigs like this alone.
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