In 1988, Coming to America released to theaters. Emphasizing Eddie Murphy’s charm and his strong chemistry with Arsenio Hall, Coming to America is a comedy classic. Not just because of its clever punchlines, but because of its heart. Its lead character Akeem is a goofy but sincere hero, whose cluelessness makes the central romance compelling and exciting. To say nothing of all the other memorable characters and running gags. It all leads to a heartfelt story mixed with clever jokes one after another.
Thirty-three years later, you would think a sequel would evolve from itself. But despite a likable cast and a solid creative team, this is far from the case. If anything, Coming 2 America feels like a screenplay that was written in the 1990s, barring a few contemporary references. And if anything, the film backtracks away from the unique elements and dynamic characterization that made the 1988 film so memorable and lovely. This leads to a frustrating, forgettable follow-up. Eddie Murphy deserves better.
At Least the Cast Had Fun
The one aspect that saves the movie, albeit barely, is its large ensemble. Just about every actor from the first movie comes back in some form, which is a good thing. While the screenplay does them little favors, the natural charisma and energy each actor possesses still gives the audience a bit of a smile whenever they are on screen. Really this film shows just how much of a likable and joyous presence Eddie Murphy is. His delivery and expressions are still solid even with mediocre material and it solidifies him as a comedy legend.
At the same time, old actors like Arsenio Hall and John Amos, as well as newbies like Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan work well off each other, bringing in a few needed chuckles. Wesley Snipes as the military leader of Zamunda rival Nextdoria (yes really) is perhaps the funniest new character.
The Degradation of Akeem
At the same time, despite the cast trying their best, the story and gags are still very poor. The callbacks from the first movie aren’t all that clever, and the plot points are as generic and uninteresting as they come. From Murphy’s Akeem trying to get his bastard son to his homeland to trying to get his son to be both a proper king and married before time runs out to falling in love with a woman he isn’t supposed to marry to one of Akeem’s daughters fighting against tradition. It’s all very old and uninteresting stuff, with little innovation or changes to a formulaic story. While the plot for the first film was not unique, there was a clever amount of culture clashing and romance that helped it stand out as a fun movie.
And while some lame jokes do not help, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the screenplay comes from Akeem. Specifically how the film goes against his beliefs in the first movie. The original Coming to America works so well because Akeem’s longing for a strong partner and connection with a woman drives the plot. There’s a beauty to how much he wants a true love and a true understanding about life. A life away from being spoiled and forced into foolish traditions.
Yet in this sequel, Akeem goes backwards, learning the lessons his father learned in the first movie. Tradition is a flawed idea and what not. It feels out of character and pointless. And while the arranged marriage plot Akeem forces himself into is more understandable, I think there were more creative avenues and stories Akeem could have gone through. Because as is, it feels more like a betrayal to the positive attributes that made Akeem in the first Coming to America so memorable and unique among romantic comedy leads.
So Much Money, Yet Still Looks Cheap
Coming 2 America has a lot of money put behind it. That very much is true, looking at the sets and costumes. Which makes it sad that director Craig Brewer fails to make the film look as good as it can be. To start things on a good note, the costumes from Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter are exquisite. The fashion in Zamunda is gorgeous, with so much character, life, and authenticity to them. This leads to a few fun dance and musical sequences, as we see Carter’s work come to life in stunning movement. But aside from that, Brewer fails to give the film the beauty it deserves.
A lot of moments in the film feel almost too glossy. Scenes have too much lighting which hurts the sets, making them look less like an exciting African city and more like a play. And apart from a few inspired moments, Brewer doesn’t really shoot these moments with energy or excitement. It’s surprising for sure, because Zamunda is the main location, which should lead to more excitement and intrigue. But as is, the audience feels like they’re just on a set rather than transported into a bustling and exciting distant kingdom. Considering the first movie managed to make Zamunda look gorgeous and showcase what makes New York such an interesting and unique city, it’s a very depressing departure from what John Landis created decades prior.
To Sum Up…
It may seem unfair to constantly compare this film to its predecessor. After all, a sequel should stand on its own. Yet Craig Brewer constantly bombards the viewers with references and flashbacks from the first movie. And most people watching this follow-up already have a strong attachment to the first movie. So it feels as if I have to weigh it against its predecessor. But even if you ignore the first film, Coming 2 America is dull stuff, with little creativity in its comedy or characters.
There’s something fun about seeing Eddie Murphy on the screen again and he does give it his all for sure. But at the same time, it only makes me wish Murphy could do something really exciting and fresh with his career instead of being in a forgettable follow-up.
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