Around the midway point of Coming 2 America, one of our new central characters, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), remarks that the only movies being made today are superhero flicks, remakes, and sequels to old films no one asked for. If only the rest of this bloated, nostalgia-obsessed retread contained that same level of amusing self-awareness.
It’s been over 30 years since Eddie Murphy’s 1988 performance as Akeem Joffer, the spoiled, but lovable prince of Zamunda, which is a fictional kingdom somewhere in Africa lush with seemingly endless wealth. Akeem’s happily ever after has been just so, with his blissful marriage to Lisa (Shari Headley, who reprises her role) resulting in three beloved daughters. The oldest, Meeka (KiKi Layne), has her sights on becoming Akeem’s official heir, but Zamundan law requires a man to take on this role.
To make matters worse, the country is caught in a power struggle with the literally named Nextdoria, which is led by the trigger happy General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). Akeem has to find his bastard son — Lavelle, who lives back in Queens for reasons that are humorously explained through a clever flashback gimmick — who can hopefully fulfill an arranged marriage with Izzi’s daughter. Semmi (Arsenio Hall) grudgingly joins Akeem in his quest, remembering the trauma of their previous visit, and along the way they encounter old friends, new faces, and a tiring litany of vain references to the original film.
Coming 2 America is at its best when it lets itself be a party, relishing in the bombastic pleasures of its dated premise and utilizing gags from the original to decent effect, including the reveal that General Izzi is the older brother of Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway), the would-be bride Akeem dismissed 30 years ago (a reveal about her character delivers what is easily one of the movie’s best laughs). The film flounders, however, when it opts to repeat jokes from the original that are supposedly funny because you’ll remember them from last time, particularly with the film’s excess of pointless, indulgent cameos.
Much of this would be pretty forgivable if the story at least offered something in the way of twists and surprises, but it’s all completely familiar, as well. Lavelle wants to marry for love, but he feels trapped by the expectations of his father. Sound familiar? Akeem, who was empowered 30 years ago to break the rules and do what makes him happy now assumes the laws of his country are simply unmovable. And the film never makes the case for why his position has changed so drastically, especially considering the first film’s arc for his father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones).
Similarly, we’ve already seen countless films about qualified daughters who get shunned out of rightful responsibilities due to their gender. Sure, these are comedies with low-brow expectations, but perhaps a stronger sequel to the original would dive deeper into the absurdities of the monarchy, which are abundant and ripe for their own commentary. The film almost challenges the need for royal families at all through new characters played by Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan, who accompany Lavelle on his trip to Zamunda and revel in the country’s bizarre delights. But just when Coming 2 America sets up a genuinely thoughtful, comedic clash of these cultures, it pivots back into a generic, dull drama about family and relationships.
At the very least, Murphy, Hall, and the rest of the cast definitely appear to be having a good time. And their enthusiasm for this material is admittedly infectious, much in the same way it was back in 1988. It might not even be possible for John Amos to miss when it comes to the McDowell’s gag, and there’s something truly comforting about seeing many of these actors in good spirits, fitting back into these roles like they never left.
For this reason, hardcore fans of the original will at least find a lot to enjoy on their first watch, and maybe even a second one down the road. But if you’re expecting a hilarious journey of epic proportions, then you’re probably better off just staying home with the original.
Coming 2 America is available to stream March 5 on Amazon Prime Video.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios