COMING 2 AMERICA (2021)
Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Wesley Snipes, Jermaine Fowler, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Shari Headley, John Amos, Louie Anderson, Rick Ross
Directed by Craig Brewer
When John Landis directed “Coming to America” in 1988 he was known for the R-rated comedies “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers,” “An American Werewolf in London,” and “Trading Places.” So, it was no surprise that the Eddie Murphy comedy featured plenty of profanity and some nudity — the cameo by Samuel L. Jackson alone is worthy of the Restricted classification.
“Coming 2 America” isn’t as raw as the original, but it doesn’t need to be. Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem was 21 years old when he first traveled to New York in search of a bride with best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall). Now at 54 as the King of Zamunda and the father of three daughters, eldest Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), middle child Princess Omma (Bella Murphy), and youngest Princess Tinashe (Akiley Love), life moves at a different pace. There’s no reason to shoot for an R-rating if it’s not warranted, although it may seem warranted by the inclusion of Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan in the cast. Still, director Craig Brewer manages to push the PG-13 envelope resulting in some very funny adult moments but nothing too raunchy as he’s stated previously, the film is geared more towards family viewing.
The sequel begins in the final days of Zamunda’s rule under King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) who’s ready to check out and pass the baton to his son Prince Akeem. His last wish is for a spectacular funeral while he’s alive and he gets it complete with famous 90’s musicians and a well-known actor making cameo appearances. It’s a fun scene heightened by Jones in an upright coffin grinning ear to ear while enjoying the music.
But alas King Jaffe has one surprise left for the Prince before he passes in the form of a shocking revelation, “You have a son Akeem!” How? What? The conception is explained in a funny but not very believable flashback featuring Leslie Jones as Mary, the mother of Akeem’s “bastard son” Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), now an ambitious 30-year-old who scalps tickets for his uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan).
So, Akeem and Semmi head back to America to find Akeem’s illegitimate son to bring him back to Zamunda as the heir to the throne should anything happen to King Akeem, rumor has it that General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the supreme leader of Nexdoria, wants Akeem assassinated and without a male heir to the throne, he can take over the kingdom. Snipes brings plenty of swagger to the role stealing each scene he’s in. The general even has his own hype man, “Introducing the wrestler of lions, the tamer of elephants, the inspiration for Mufasa, the most well-endowed man in Africa, General Izzzzzzzzzzzzzi!” The grand entrance includes Snipes busting out moves as if he’s line dancing on Soul Train.
Much of “Coming 2 America” feels like a reboot of the first film. Akeem and Semmi revisit their old stomping grounds including the My-T-Sharp barbershop still standing in the now gentrified section of Queens. Three decades have passed but these characters —played by Murphy, Hall, and good friend Clint Smith under tons of prosthetics — haven’t aged a day since 1988. The one-liners fly (although the language is toned down) just like old times. It’s great to see Clarence, Morris, Sweets, and Saul together again. No CGI here, it took Murphy 4 ½ hours in makeup to transform into Saul, the old Jewish man. When “Coming to America” was released many moviegoers and heads of the studio had no idea that Murphy and Hall were playing most of the barbershop characters.
There is a strong female empowerment undercurrent running through "Coming 2 America." Princess Meeka should be the heir to the throne. She’s a strong leader skilled in martial arts but as a female, Akeem’s eldest daughter is not eligible under Zamunda’s antiquated laws. Things may change now that King Jaffe has passed and as we all know the kingdom is actually ruled by Queen Lisa (the wonderful Shari Headley reprising her role). FYI, her father Cleo McDowell (John Amos) is still running his McDonald’s knockoff restaurants which have expanded to Zamunda with the help of his right-hand man Maurice (Louie Anderson).
The majority of “Coming 2 America” features Lavelle preparing for his future role in the kingdom while King Akeem and General Izzi conspire to bring peace between the two neighboring lands with an arranged marriage between Lavelle and the General’s daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor exhibiting Eartha Kitt flair). Sound familiar? If you can remember what happened when King Jaffe proposed an arranged marriage between Akeem and General Izzi’s sister Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway) you can guess what happens here. Ater Lavelle meets the royal barber (Nomzamo Mbatha) a beautiful down to earth female who dreams of owning her own salon, the two become friends and feelings develop between the couple.
Nostalgia rules Craig Brewer’s sequel which isn’t concerned with bringing something new to the game, it’s a greatest hits package and a bonus for fans, who like myself, never imagined we’d get a sequel to the film that became an iconic part of movie history. “Coming 2 America” is visually stunning — the costumes by Ruth E. Carter, the first black designer to win an Oscar for her work on Marvel’s “Black Panther,” are amazing, and there are plenty of laughs and sentimental moments to put a big smile on your face. Welcome back Zamunda, we missed you.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime