Before the fictional Wakanda, there was the fictional kingdom of Zamunda in Africa. And in the ‘80s, when Eddie Murphy could do no wrong, we got Coming to America. I loved it when it came out, and I still do. It’s one of those comedies that when it’s on TV, I keep it on (and my wife doesn’t mind, the way she does when I put on Step Brothers).
I was thrilled that director Craig Brewer was attached to this. I loved his movies Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. I thought he did a decent job with the remake of Footloose, and Dolemite Is My Name was solid. My Critics Choice group awarded that “best comedy” as well as “best costumes.”
Brewer brought Ruth E. Carter, who did those costumes, to work on Coming 2 America. Obviously, he also brought Eddie Murphy, who played Prince Akeem Joffer. Luckily for us, he’s still a Prince. That means we get to see James Earl Jones as the lion king. Okay, well…he wears lions. And speaking of luck — I’m guessing Louie Anderson and Arsenio Hall are the most thrilled about getting big paychecks for this sequel.
Everything seems to be going well for the royals in Zamunda, until some rebels from the next village (lead by a bizarre looking and sounding Wesley Snipes), visits to make threats. They’re from the city of — Nextdooria. It’s a name that’s about as dumb as the substance that was so hard to acquire in the movie Avatar — Unobtainium.
Akeem learns that he has an illegitimate son in Queens. That son needs to be found, so he can someday be an heir to the throne (since Prince Akeem has three daughters who, by Zamuda law, can not rule ). This will keep them from being attacked by the rebels of Nextdooria, or from one of the daughters being forced into a marriage with General Izzi’s (Snipes) kid.
You’re wondering how Akeem could have a son, as it was so romantic in the first movie how he didn’t want to “sow his wild oats” but find true love, which he did. Yet in a flashback we see how Semmi (Arsenio Hall) brought back a woman from the bar they went to. That woman (Leslie Jones) drugged him, jumped on his lap, and eventually had their son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler)
First, I don’t mind that the scenario presented was idiotic. My bigger problem is Leslie Jones. On Saturday Night Live, and every film since, she has yet to be funny. She’s merely obnoxious. An actress like Niecy Nash (who’s hysterical) would have been a much better fit.
So off Akeem and Semmi go to Queens, New York. At least that gives us the folks at the barbershop (most of them characters played by Hall and Murphy, which Oprah Winfrey just realized recently). I thought they’d be debating who was better between Lebron and Jordan. Nope. It was still boxing, and it was funny. If only the whole movie could have been shot at “My T Sharp.”
Son Lavelle has a disastrous job interview (with Colin Jost). That scene could have been more clever (he’s subtly racist). After the clip-on tie is thrown at him (that was done so much better by Clooney in Out of Sight), we see his next hustle — scalping tickets. Akeem introduces himself, goes back to his apartment, and we meet Lavelle’s clan including his obnoxious mom (Leslie Jones) and dorky Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan). I used to be a huge fan of Morgan, but I’ve grown tired of his schtick; and when he’s not giving funny lines, it’s intolerable.
The smart thing the filmmakers did was make Lavelle a likable young man. If he were an American that was acting obnoxious in any way, it would be hard for us to root for him; especially when we wouldn’t see him being able to conform to a regal setting.
You wonder how he’s going to react to the “royal bathers” or in this era of #metoo, if they’d even have them (especially since Prince Akeem has three daughters, and you’d think he’d want to show them that women aren’t just sex slaves that work at the palace). Don’t get me wrong, I chuckled at James Earl Jones’ sly smile when he talked about “having sex with the bathers,” but that was the ‘80s, I was still a teen, and it was a different time.
Now, when Prince Akeem is introducing Lavelle to his three daughters, I was wondering if this type of scenario ever happened with Murphy in real life (he has 10 kids with five different women). So while they made a joke about how bad sequels are, and other inside jokes…they don’t touch this even with a 10-foot pole.
Speaking of jokes, there were also many recycled jokes. For example, Mr. McDowell (John Amos) explains how his McFlubby is different from McDonald’s “McFlurry.” Nothing funny about that.
This is why people complain about sequels when it comes to comedies. We all loved Rocky 2, The Empire Strikes Back, and Godfather 2. But if I started listing sequels to comedies, 90% were turkeys. Part of the problem is that the filmmakers think, since we thought Ken Jeong and Zach Galifianakis were so funny in The Hangover, that in the sequel you could just have them in it saying crazy stuff and we’ll laugh. It doesn’t work that way.
There were a lot of cameos that weren’t that funny or interesting. Trevor Noah was fun as a newscaster for ZNN, and John Legend is hysterical, singing a song from the original movie in the closing credits in an insane falsetto. But an example of how unfunny this movie was, is in the credits. They have the distinction of being the only comedy in movie history that has a blooper reel at the end, that is void of laughs.
There are jokes in this that probably wouldn’t have been funny in the ‘80s. For example, tasting a meatless hamburger and making funny faces, or the dad trying to be hip by saying something is “on fleek” only to be made fun of by his daughters for that phrase not being cool anymore (in the ‘80s, the joke would have been his saying “gettin’ jiggy wit it.”). Another scene involves someone in a hot tub with Leslie Jones (which was done in the ‘80s, with Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School).
There are scenes with a lion, and one with an elephant, where the CGI looked so unbelievable it was awful.
There were a handful of funny lines. Tracy Morgan calling Arsenio “Benson” comes to mind (although anybody under the age of 50 won’t get that joke).
My wife (who was also disappointed with this) laughed the hardest at a scene that had Akeem mopping up a floor to clear his mind after a fight with his wife.
While that was cute, it made me wonder what happened to Eriq La Salle and his Soul Glo. Would it have been that hard to give him a funny cameo? He could have been scalping tickets next to Lavelle; or he could have been bald. So many possibilities, but instead…we got Sexual Chocolate. Oh, and speaking of bands, we get “original” songs by En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa that were fun; and I’ll be singing Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Zamunda” for the next few weeks.
And look, nobody says the sequel has to be as funny as the original. That’s a tall order. A few comedy sequels that were funny enough to work, include Toy Story 2, Harold and Kumar Go To Guantanamo Bay, Naked Gun 2 ½, Austin Powers, and Wayne’s World 2; but we made fun of the latest Wayne’s World Super Bowl commercial, because…just getting the band back together isn’t enough. We need more than wigs, costumes, and memories of past glories.
I once read an interview with Garry Marshall where he said he was able to get the legendary Jackie Gleason to be in Nothing in Common (Tom Hanks), the year before he died, because he said something like, “Do you really want ‘Smokey and the Bandit 3’ to be your last film?”
With James Earl Jones being 90, I hate to think this is the film that could possibly be his last.
The most clever thing about this movie is the title.
You can catch it on Amazon Prime this weekend.
1 ½ stars out of 5.