Coming 2 America, A Warm Blanket of Nostalgia That Falls Shy of Greatness

Dept. of Murphy and Monarchy


While it appears no one can agree when exactly nostalgia cycles repeat, every 20, 30, or even 40 years, it’s a well enough understood concept that you can usually predict when remakes and sequels will appear, as producers try and recreate the joys of their youth. Even within that paradigm however, Coming 2 America doesn’t quite fit. As a sequel to 1988’s Coming to America, both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall have had more than enough pull in Hollywood to greenlight a sequel at any time in the least 32 years, but it’s not as if anyone has been clamouring for one, have they?

For anyone who hasn’t seen the original, pampered African Prince Akeem of Zamunda (Murphy) fled from an arranged marriage, to try and find true love. His arranged bride-to-be followed his every command (including memorably standing on one leg and barking) but with no spark of love between them, what was the point? In order to find a woman worthy of Zamundan royalty, Akeem and his attendant Semmi (Arsenio Hall), headed, where else, but Queens, New York. 

Along the way, the wealthy, but street-unwise Zamundans sampled the local nightclub scene, tried to live like locals do (in a place it would be too kind to call a “crack den” ), and got jobs in the local fast food restaurant MacDowells (not McDonalds), before Akeem finally found Lisa (Shari Headley), a partner that loved him for whom he appeared to be (penniless, but charming).

Taking up the story 30 years later, Akeem is still only the heir to the throne (I wonder if he’s in a club with Prince Charles), and now has three powerful daughters with Lisa.

Heavy Lies the Crown

As he prepares to become king, Akeem must reckon with the plotting of a flamboyant hostile dictator from the neighbouring kingdom, Nexdoria, and the law that states the Zamundan crown can only pass to a male heir.

Rather than actually having to implement any meaningful change, however, Akeem discovers that he has a son from his time in America. The result of an ill conceived plan by both Semmi, in trying to keep the prince occupied while he got his rocks off, and by the filmmakers, as they desperately try to invent a situation whereby the historically pure prince could have conceived without making him less likeable.

In making Coming 2 America, Murphy, and director Craig Brewer, seem to have worked to the maxim that, if anyone from the first movie is available, they should return in some capacity. From Paul Bates’ royal announcer Oha, to Louie Anderson’s MacDowell’s employee Maurice, the film is riddled with faces familiar to anyone who’s watched the original. Even Garcelle Beauvais’ wordless rose bearer returns. (Although there’s no Eriq La Salle).

The nostalgia reaches fever pitch during a ceremony to honor King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) that features cameos from En Vogue, Gladys Knight, and a voice over guest that is too good to spoil, but it’s at this point the film effectively peaks, as the storyline really kicks in.

This time, instead of naive Zamundans in Reagan’s 80s America, the fish out of water is an American in the Zamundan royal court, as Akeem’s son Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) tries to come to terms with his elevation from struggling ticket scalper to African Prince, and his role in the future of Zamunda.

The Return of Idiot Amin

As reasons for sequels go it’s not a particularly bad one, but outside the warm “soul glo” of nostalgia, Coming 2 America just barely does enough to justify its existence.

There are plenty of moments that will raise a wry grin, but despite the comedic talent involved, it’s hardly packed with laughs. There’s a fun flashback to 80s Queens that seems to use a multitude of makeup tricks to recreate the de-aging technology recently seen in Marvel movies. The young cast are all great, especially Fowler, KiKi Layne as his step sister, and Nomzamo Mbatha. On the other hand, while Murphy and Hall are having a whale of a time recreating the multiple characters they played in the original under a tonne of makeup, they seem much less interested in delivering laughs as supporting leads. Next to the laughs delivered by Murphy’s performance as fully half of the “My-T-Sharp” barber shop quartet of Clarence, Morris, Sweets, and Saul, Akeem comes off as flat.

It is somewhat refreshing that in its approach to casting, Coming 2 America retains the romantic lead of the original, Shari Headley, unlike other nostalgia tinged releases. Even the otherwise good natured Bill and Ted series has managed to go through female romantic leads in three films, while the male leads remained the same. While Lisa rightly gets to disabuse Akeem of some of his worst notions, it’s a pity that the storyline requires them both to have been effectively trapped, unchanging, in amber for the past 30 years in order it to happen.

Always Bet on Black

When it comes to new additions Wesley Snipes lights up the screen every time he hot steps into the room as the Nexdorian leader General Izzi. His flamboyant clothing perfectly complements his preening nature and are a highlight of the amazing costuming in the film.

Unfortunately, fellow new recruits Leslie Jones and Tracey Morgan fare much worse, disappointingly relegated to the roles of loudmouth in-laws, limited to screaming unfunny catchphrases for most of their screen time.

While most other hits of 1988 either have too many sequels (Die Hard) or too many failed attempts at one (BeetleJuice), Coming 2 America doesn’t really feel essential, but that still doesn’t counter the warm feeling fans of the original will get as John Amos’ Cleo McDowell once again explains why some element of MacDowell’s branding is actually nothing like the McDonald’s product it is clearly ripping off. (“We put the toppings on the MacFlurby on the bottom!”)

I doubt Coming 2 America will warrant a similar sequel any time soon but after this and My Name is Dolemeite, Murphy and Snipes are still very much a pair to keep an eye on.

Now, do a sequel to The Golden Child next.

Coming 2 America is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Coming to America is currently available on Netflix.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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