By Christian DiMartino
The news of a movie like Coming 2 America usually hits me in two ways. On one hand, it’s a sequel to a comedy classic, once again starring the people who made the original special. So certainly, they too must’ve seen something in the project. On the other hand, this is a sequel that arrives over 30 years later, and chances are, if they didn’t have an idea 30 years ago, they probably still don’t have much of an idea.
Such is the problem, unfortunately, with Coming 2 America.
John Landis’ original Coming to America is a comedy goldmine, made whenever Eddie Murphy was at the peak of his powers. The first film in which Murphy took on multiple characters (something he’d repeat again down the road), the film is still funny, and a reminder of what a comedic force Murphy can be. The same goes for Arsenio Hall, who very much does his own thing, but does it splendidly in the original film. Which now brings us to Coming 2 America, which happens to bring back, quite remarkably, pretty much the entire cast. It’s also directed by Craig Brewer, who made Murphy’s last film, the hugely enjoyable Dolemite is My Name. Everything appears to be on this film’s side.
And yet… it doesn’t work. The reception is pretty split down the middle thus far, but I really didn’t like this film. It’s not quite bottom-shelf Murphy, but considering it’s a sequel to top-shelf Murphy, and considering just how alive he was in Dolemite is My Name, Coming 2 America is a letdown. Why? Simple, really. The film begins well, and then sags from then on. Trouble is, it’s not funny enough, nor interesting enough for its 110 minute runtime. What is funny in Coming 2 America is really only funny because it was funny in Coming to America. There isn’t really much in the way of new ground covered, and what is isn’t particularly interesting because the film makes a grave mistake, and I’ll get to that later.
Murphy, still looking smashing, returns as Prince Akeem, who will soon be King. Yet he doesn’t have a rightful heir, seeing as he only has daughters. Yet he’s told by a shaman thing (played by Arsenio Hall, in terrifying, terrific make-up) that he does supposedly have a son, living in New York, where he visited the first time. Now if you’ve seen the first film, you’ll know that he didn’t really spend any time with any women besides Lisa (Shari Headley), his love interest and current wife. Yet this is explained, in a cheap cop-out that is just interesting enough to get by. Yada yada, Akeem slept with Leslie Jones, and so he travels to America to inform his son (Jermaine Fowler) that he is a prince.
I’ll say, the production values are good. The costumes by Ruth E. Carter are unique and so is the production design and make-up (living up to Rick Baker is no easy task, but they’ve done it). This is certainly a bigger movie than its predecessor, which, since it’s a sequel, makes sense. Yet, bigger isn’t always better, and this occurred to me by at least the second dance number. So yes, basically when a new character makes a grand entrance in this film, it’s done through some big lavish dance number. It’s impressive, but like the rest of the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder, well, why? Besides to take up screen time.
The film is at its funniest whenever it references the original film, such as the characters played by Hall and Murphy. They do provide a smile. Yet here is a movie that reminds you of the great time you once had, and the great time you could be having instead. Once this sunk in, the film began to not work. It also doesn’t help that I watched the original right before this one, because it was very easy to spot just how much story material was being reused.
There are a lot of problems with Coming 2 America. The aforementioned stuff, but all of that would be forgivable if the film was consistently funny, which it sadly isn’t. The biggest issue here though ties back to one previously mentioned. Remember above when I said that the film constantly reminds you of the great time you had at the previous film? Tell me: why did we have such a great time during the original? Simple, really: Arsenio Hall, of course, but especially Eddie Murphy. The big problem with Coming 2 America is that it is bigger, and there are more characters and yada yada, and yet it almost feels like Murphy is put on the sidelines. It almost feels as if they didn’t have much for him to do, and only gave him something to do whenever they felt like it. Look guys, I don’t go to an Eddie Murphy movie for Tracey Morgan and Leslie Jones; I go for Eddie Murphy. When he’s given the chance the shine, he does. Yet he isn’t really given too much of a chance to spread his wings, especially come the halfway mark. We spend all of this time with Fowler and Jones and frankly, I don’t care about these people. I care about Prince Akeem, and Hall and Murphy’s other creations. Akeem seems to have been stripped away of what made him interesting; the other creations do get their day, even if it’s brief.
So, yeah, this didn’t work, and my usual skepticism was unfortunately accurate. They didn’t really have much of an idea; they just wanted to stroll down memory lane. My thing is, imagine how much better this would’ve been as a spin-off. Why not just ditch this entire “story” altogether, and strictly focus on the old guys at the barber shop (you know, Murphy and Hall’s other characters)? Have Prince Akeem show up as a cameo or something? Those characters have such personality, and are easily the funniest element in Coming 2 America, I’d rather watch the five minutes their onscreen on a loop than sit through this movie again.