Eddie Murphy has always had a very particular stamp of humor, one which requires you to be on his wavelength at all times. Growing up loving movies like The Nutty Professor and Norbit, I was constantly impressed with the ease at which he slides in and out of various characters. It wasn’t until the past year that I finally started exploring some of his back catalogue. There are still several bonafide classics I have to get to, but watching the original Coming to America for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a slight disconnect. I was expecting a really sharp comedy with non-stop laughs, but it was more comfort food cute than knee-slapper hilarious. Now, a full 32 years later, Coming 2 America finally arrives. Long-overdue sequels are hit or miss, but I have to admit this sequel does capture much of the oddball charm of the original. It’s a movie that fans of the original will probably love, but for me, it misses the mark, failing to do anything new or exciting with these characters.
As King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) lies on his deathbed, he reveals a long-kept secret to Prince Hakeem (Eddie Murphy): Hakeem has a son! Traveling back to NYC with his trusted Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Hakeem tracks down ‘the bastard’ Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) with the hopes he’ll return to Zamunda as heir to the throne.
The opening scene is an engaging way to bring us back into this world. A clever sequence with new characters inserted into old scenes is done very well and utilizes a stellar Leslie Jones. The nods to the original are cute at first before going stale. It becomes obvious after much overuse of flashback and similar story beats that Coming 2 America isn’t interested in bringing anything new to the table. Even the main narrative is little more than a predictable reversal, only with Lavelle adjusting to life in Zamunda. You can see where it’s going well before it arrives at the final destination. The humor and jokes are hit-or-miss. Whenever the movie delves into poop or fart jokes, it gets lazy. Fart humor with a bad CGI-lion feels so dated at this point.
There are many things I liked about this film, even though I found it to ultimately be a disappointment. Barbershop scenes that bring back familiar characters strike the best beats of Murphy comedy and serve as obvious highlights. Big bombastic concert portions peppered throughout are fun, silly, classic Murphy. The returning cast is lovely, as are the new additions. Jermaine Fowler and Wesley Snipes as Akeem’s son and new villain General Izzi, respectively, are both so much fun to watch. As always, the biggest reason to watch any new Eddie Murphy film is for Murphy himself, who slides back into playing Akeem like a glove. The makeup work on the various characters he plays remains fantastic. His chemistry with Arsenio Hall’s Semmi is still there too, even if the duo doesn’t feel quite as bold this time around with less screentime.
This is a movie that feels held back by a PG-13 rating that never allows it to embrace the full raunchy possibilities. When you’re making a long-awaited sequel to an R-rated film, the least you can do is stick to the same rating. Just for the record, my favorite discovery so far while working my way through Eddie’s filmography was Trading Places. That film offers layered racial commentary and class politics, while remaining a riotously funny buddy comedy. Both Coming to America films are perfectly fine comedies, but they never climb the golden steps to Eddie Murphy greatness. Zamunda is always a fantastic idea in concept, yet, it flounders once more in the execution. Coming 2 America heads to streaming on March 5th exclusively to Amazon Prime members.