PLOT: More than thirty years after first visiting the U.S, Zamunda’s newly crowned King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) discovers that he has a long-lost American son. Meanwhile, he also has to contend with a neighboring warlord (Wesley Snipes), an angry wife (Shari Headley), and his more-than-capable daughter (Kiki Layne) who resents the country’s patriarchal rules of succession.
REVIEW: Coming to America is a tamer movie than you may remember. Sure, there were F-bombs and the royal bathers (who are back in the sequel – albeit wearing more clothes), but overall it was a pretty safe comedy that was a beloved childhood classic in my household despite the R-rating. As such, Amazon’s COMING 2 AMERICA may disappoint hardcore Eddie Murphy fans who were thrilled as his return to raunch in Dolemite is My Name, but it’s a perfectly pleasant, good-natured comedy that will no doubt be a huge hit for Amazon Prime.
In many ways, this feels like a halfway point between one of Murphy’s nineties family comedies (more Nutty Professor than Daddy Day Care) and his eighties classics. It’s ultimately wholesome but director Craig Brewer has still sprinkled in a little bit of raunch to please the old-school fans.
One thing that’s worth noting is Akeem has always been one of Murphy’s more classic leading man types. He anchors the film emotionally, with most of the humor coming from the other characters he plays, such as two of the three guys in the NYC barbershop, while Arsenio Hall, who returns as his right-hand man Semmi, plays the third. Murphy seems eager to pass the baton on to another generation, even taking a backseat at times not only to newcomers Jermaine Fowler (as his long lost son Lavelle) and Kiki Layne, but also Hall and Wesley Snipes.
Snipes is really funny as General Izzi, the neighboring warlord who wants to either marry into the royal family or eliminate it, and he seems to be having a blast chewing scenery. He hasn’t been this funny since Major League. Fowler is also very likable as the new addition to the royal family, with his Lavelle as a surprisingly sensitive and sensible guy, who’s not unlike his dad in a lot of ways. I especially liked his sweet-natured romance with the royal barber, played by lovely newcomer Nomzamo Mbatha. Kiki Layne, who made a big splash recently in The Old Guard, is great as Akeem’s oldest daughter, who’s looking to take Zamunda into the 21st century. The conflict in the plot comes from the fact that her dad still clings to his father’s old ways (James Earl Jones returns for an extended cameo).
Notably, Coming 2 America doesn’t seem overly reliant on gags. Like Brewer’s last Murphy movie, it aims to tell a relatively warm-hearted story (Dolemite – for all of its raunch – had a very big heart at its core). It’s funny, but not in a big set-piece kind of way. The humor is more character-based, with the big laughs coming from Snipes, Leslie Jones (as Akeem’s baby mama), and the iconic barbershop guys – who get more screen time than they did in the original and have all the best lines.
One thing worth mentioning – if you haven’t seen Coming to America in a while, a revisit is definitely in order before checking out the sequel. It does assume viewers are extremely familiar with the original, with tons of callbacks (too many?). Virtually every memorable character (with one or two exceptions) is back. Even folks like Louie Anderson return, with his character still working at McDowell’s – but he’s at least a manager in Zamunda now. Brewer, known for grittier stuff like Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and more, opts to shoot the film in a way that’s not significantly different from John Landis’s approach to the original. This gives the two films some continuity – although there are a few big musical numbers that feel like his personal stamp on the material. Overall, it’s not the hardcore-R-rated comedy some may have wanted, but honestly, that was never really what Coming to America was (despite the F-bombs). This is still a funny and pleasant follow-up to a comedy classic that should leave a smile on the face of many fans. It cements Murphy’s comeback as the real thing – so hopefully we finally get Beverly Hills Cop IV before long (although that one HAS TO BE rated-R).