I remember watching Coming to America for the first time, it was the summer of 1988 at a single-screen theater with high school friends. I’ve probably seen the movie several hundred times since, mostly in pieces these days since I watch it every time I find it playing while flipping through the station guide.
I’ve watched Coming to America so many times, I’ve surely seen Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem more than any other character he’s ever portrayed. More than Reggie Hammond, more than Billy Ray Valentine, more than Detective Axel Foley, even more than Eddie as Eddie, the star of Raw and Delirious. More than anyone at all in a movie theatre saw Eddie’s supremely brilliant take on filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore, in Dolemite Is My Name, by far one of the most entertaining and engaging films of 2019.
Eventually, I memorized every line from Coming to America (Perennial favorite: “I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins!”) as well as each character’s nuances and their mannerisms. (I still love the energy everytime Eriq La Salle’s Darryl Jenks smiles into the side mirror of his Trans Am. It reveals so much about the character.)
After watching Coming 2 America last night, I felt like Eddie and his team of writers got it mostly right. The movie wasn’t so much about Murphy’s Prince Akeem as it was about his son, Lavelle Junson played by Jermaine Fowler, a street-smart Queens native who, at 30, is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. If Eddie was in 90 percent of Coming to America, he might have been in a third of the sequel.
The rest of the movie was held down by a lot of newish faces: the aforementioned Fowler; KiKi Layne who played Princess Meeka Joffer (Akeem’s oldest daughter); and Nomzamo Mbatha as the royal groomer and Lavelle's love interest. They mostly play it straight; the majority of the laughs come from the professional standups: Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Tracy Murphy, and Leslie Jones who was utilized perfectly, by the way.
But I don’t consider Coming 2 America a sequel as much as it is an addendum. It was never going to be as enjoyable as its predecessor -- sequels rarely are (especially films which are a substantial part of the fabric of pop culture). Coming 2 America was destined to fail from day one.
In Coming 2 America, Murphy gets to right a few wrongs, deliver a strong feminist message, and take a few well-deserved jabs at modern-day America. It doesn’t have the gritty feel of the original, but Amazon would never approve a remake of this classic with the same jagged edges the original had. Coming 2 America is as family friendly as it gets in 2021 and comparing it to the original recipe only spoils the viewing experience. We don’t give grades or ratings at OUTSIDELEFT, but if a gun was pointed, I’d give this one a C, maybe C+.
As I was getting ready for the day, the morning after watching Coming 2 America’s Amazon debut, I listened to a review of the film on an NPR podcast only to discover that my feelings of the movie were incorrect.
According to the NPR review, elements of Coming 2 America’s script were deemed antiquated, regressive, and “frozen in time.” Of course, certain characters in the film had to be portrayed in a less favorable light in order for the movie’s narrative to make sense, but try explaining that to anyone born before Coming to America was made.
But the one thing the NPR reviews couldn’t get over was how Leslie Jones’s Mary got pregnant. I predict dozens of think pieces will be written about this plot device alone. I won’t spoil it, watch it for yourself.
If anything keeps Coming 2 America from being great is that it tried to pack too much into 110 minutes. While it’s a gimmicky trick now, I might have preferred to see this sequal as a five-part limited series in order to let everyone’s character breathe a little. I’d have loved 15 more minutes of Akeem’s daughters. Instead, a lot of this Coming 2’s messages seemed forced and they didn’t have to be. Coming to America’s commentary were subtle sight gags and felt insidery. Coming 2 America’s commentary was about as subtle as an ABC After School Special.
Coming 2 America is currently on Amazon Prime
Photo: Paramount Pictures