There is a scene about halfway through the 33 year too late “Coming 2 America”, the sequel to the Eddie Murphy classic from 1988. In the scene, Price Akeem’s (Eddie Murphy) son Lavelle is in conversation with a girl. They talk about movies in America and our obsession with superhero movies, remakes and sequels. Lavelle proceeds to ask her “Why do we have sequels to great movies no one asked for?”. She replies “This is true about sequels. If it’s good then why ruin it?”. I pondered these questions myself while watching the atrocity that is “Coming 2 America”. Kenya Barris and the other screenwriters really should have listened to their own screenplay.
Originally scheduled for release in theaters in August 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic led Paramount Pictures to sell the rights to Amazon Studios. “Coming 2 America” is now available exclusively on Amazon Prime. This time around Zamunda is a much more wholesome place compared to our first glimpses in the original R rated film and you can credit that to the sequel’s watered down PG-13 rating.
In “Coming 2 America” Eddie Murphy returns as Akeem, the prince of of Zamunda, who has lived for 30 years in wedded bliss with his beloved Lisa (Shari Headley). They have raised three very capable daughters, but since Zamunda is a patriarchy, none of them can inherit the throne and with King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) on his deathbed, the matter of who will one day succeed Akeem becomes a major issue.
Then there is General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) of the neighboring nation of Nexdoria, who is still angry that Akeem turned down his arranged marriage with Izzi’s sister Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway who is still hopping on one foot and barking), wants Akeem’s daughter Meeka (KiKi Layne) to marry Idi Izzi (Rotimi Akinosho). She has no interest in doing so, but when Semmi (Arsenio Hall) reveals that, back in 1988, Akeem had a pot-fueled one-night stand (that Akeem cannot remember) with Mary (Leslie Jones) and produced a son from that night named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Akeem and Semmi make their way back to Queens to bring back his son, the new prince of Zamunda.
Craig Brewer (“Black Snake Moan” and “Footloose”) takes over as director for the sequel as original director John Landis’ absence is sorely missed. Brewer (Jonathan Levine of “Longshot” and “Warm Bodies” was originally to direct) is no Landis and while Brewer has only directed one comedy in his career with 2019’s “Dolemite Is My Name” also starring Eddie Murphy. Brewer doesn’t have the experience to direct a sequel of this caliber, especially to one of the best comedies of the 80’s. Thankfully screenwriter Kenya Barris has experience with comedy being the creator and writer of ABC’s sitcom “Black-Ish”. With his experience it’s all the more confusing as to why the “Coming 2 America” script is so disappointing. Barris is a much smarter, sharper and better writer than this.
Kenya Barris’ script goes out of its way to make sure that every joke from the first movie comes out to make another appearance. If Brewer finds difficulty in rehashing a gag from 1988’s “Coming to America”, he will literally roll the clip from the first movie so we can remember how great the original is and how much his sequel lacks both the bite and fresh wit of the original.
The callbacks and nostalgia come quickly in “Coming 2 America”, with appearances from a McDowell’s fast food restaurant and comedian Louie Anderson happening even before the opening credits wrap. There is, of course an undeniable pleasure in seeing original actors like Jon Amos, Shari Headley and James Earl Jones make another appearance in these memorable roles. Aside from less than a handful of actors, nearly everyone from the 1988 film is back.
Murphy and Arsenio Hall are much too old for these roles. Much like Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were in the stinker “Dumb & Dumber To”. Murphy especially doesn’t have that charisma that he did when he was at his peak in the 80’s. He takes the Bruce Willis approach and walks in and out of frame looking bored in his return as Akeem. Only coming to life when he’s caked in prosthetics as the barber shop owner Clarence, Randy Watson of Sexual Chocolate and Saul (Clarence’s Jewish verbal sparring partner at the barber shop). Murphy, isn’t so much giving a performance as he is instead hosting a reunion. Same goes for Arsenio Hall, who is nice to see back on screen. Arsenio can only score the laughs under the same prosthetic conditions playing four different characters in total.
“Coming 2 America” is Eddie Murphy’s best attempt at the kind of films Adam Sandler makes on Netflix. Like Sandler, Murphy relies on nostalgia from his original film and filling the screen as a personal party for Murphy and his celebrity friends. The whole setup feels like an SNL sketch that can’t re-create the original’s spark and masterful comedy.
It was always going to be a tall order to match the comic greatness of the original film; which is one of the best comedies of all time. The sequel never matches up to the greatness of the original and the jokes don’t land as hard. Given that Murphy had more than three decades to create a sequel, this just feels like disappointing microwaved leftovers. While fans of the original, like myself just end up wondering why aren’t we just rewatching the first movie?
GRADE: ★1/2☆☆☆☆ (1.5 out of 5)