Tuesday March 09, 2021
Movie Review: Coming 2 America (2021)
If you’d asked anyone back in 1988 who would be the emerging star in the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America,” they might’ve gone with Arsenio Hall, whose talk show was to debut the following year, or maybe Shari Headley, who was 24, lovely, and played romantic lead Lisa McDowell, or just one of those insanely beautiful rose-petal bearers such as Garcelle Beauvais; but the correct answer turned out to be the dude with the crazy eyes who tried to rob McDowell’s restaurant with a shotgun. In a way, Samuel L. Jackson became even bigger than Murphy, who, at this point, was in the midst of a seven-year run on Quigley’s list of the year’s top-10 box-office champs, including four times at No. 2 and once at No. 1. But after “Harlem Nights” bombed the following year he fell off, made it back sporadically, but was never the same. While Sam Jackson became Sam Jackson.
Interest in a “Coming to America” sequel grew, I assume, after the huge success of “Black Panther,” as well as Eddie’s great comeback turn in “Dolemite Is My Name” in 2019. Eddie even tapped “Dolemite” director Craig Brewer to have another go. And at first glance it all seems like a great idea. Then you remember: Yeah, the original wasn’t that funny. Half the film, Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem, is a comic persona—perpetually smiling and naïve—the other half he’s heroic leading man. It’s an odd combo.
And 30+ years is a long time. The first movie had a lot of gratuitous female nudity—like most ’80s comedies—which doesn’t play well in the #MeToo age. Worse, the whole “royal penis is clean” and “bark like a dog” bits leaned into Murphy’s late ’80s misogyny.
So there were problems going in. But then they made it worse. “Coming 2 America” is one of those movies where in the first act the main character is doing X, everyone thinks “Why is he doing X? Shouldn’t he be doing Y?” and the lesson at the end is: Do Y. Great. Thanks.
Prince Akeem's problem is he has no male heir, just three strong daughters; and by Zamundan law they can’t ascend to the throne. Has to be dudes. And it’s feared that once Akeem’s father, Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), dies, the country will become unstable and the strong-arm ruler of Nextdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), will take over.
Baba, the witch doctor: He will use the passing of our king as a sign to attack the weak one.
Akeem: The weak one? Am I the weak one?
Jaffe: I spoiled you, my son. You are not strong or ruthless as I am. You will be assassinated.
So Akeem encourages his father to change the backward laws to allow a female heir to take over. The end.
Kidding. Instead, they find out—whoa!—there is a male heir. In 1988, Akeem fathered a son without knowing it when a crazy girl, Mary Junson (Leslie Jones), jumped his bones when he was high. So Jaffe sends Akeem and his right-hand man Semmi (Arsenio) back to America to find this kid and make him next in line to the throne.
The kid, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) is 30, going nowhere, and leaps at the chance. There are tests he has to pass in Zamunda, including taking the whisker of “a man-eating lion” (Me: Are there other kinds of lions?), and more machinations from Izzi, who now wants his daughter, Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), to marry Lavelle. But then Lavelle overhears a conversation that makes him think he’s a pawn in Akeem’s game, and he and his entire entourage flee back to Queens—including Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), the royal groomer, whom he wants to marry. Akeem follows them there, finds them at the altar, gives his blessing, then returns to Zamunda where his three strong daughters have already subdued a coup attempt by Gen. Izzi. Which is when he does the thing he should’ve done in the first act. He changes the backward laws to allow a female heir to ascend to the throne.
Never saw it coming.
So that’s one of the movie’s two big problems. The other problem is bigger: It’s just not funny. Wesley Snipes is good, Leslie Jones is great (she gets the “royal privates are clean” bit), and Eddie eventually made me laugh but it took a while. Arsenio, no. Jermaine, no. Tracy Morgan, nah. The barbershop boys are back, and Eddie’s old Jewish man is still killer (“What is this—velvet?”), but they were way old in ’88 and haven’t aged a day so it seems odd. A Morgan Freeman bit, playing off his role as America’s official narrator, falls flat. A joke about child African soldiers should’ve been crumpled up and tossed in the wastebasket.
Three writers worked on this screenplay—the original two and the overworked Kenya Barris (“Black-ish,” “#BlackAF,” “Girls Trip,”etc.)—but they either didn’t work hard enough or there wasn’t enough to play off of. Instead of jokes, we get cameos. Salt n Pepa show up, En Vogue show up, Dikembe Mutombo shows up. SNL’s Colin Jost plays the grandson of Randolph and Mortimer Duke from “Trading Places” to not much effect. Trevor Noah plays a moustached TV journalist on ZNN, allowing James Earl Jones to intone “This … is ZNN,” which wasn’t laugh-out loud but at least it made a smile. Seeing Jones and John Amos alive made me smile.
I just wish there was more life in Eddie. Next movie, he should get a personal trainer to help with that gut and just fucking let it go with the comedy. C'mon. We're rooting for you, man.