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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Coming 2 America


There are sequels that exist to continue a film's story, and there are also sequels that exist to repeat the same successful formula as before.  And then there are sequels like Coming 2 America, which largely play on the nostalgia audiences hold for the original, and repeat the same ideas and gags, only in a different setting.  I'm sure these kind of movies are fun for the actors to make.  They get to reunite with their characters and co-stars after a long time has passed (in this case, 33 years), and the set probably has the vibe of a reunion.  Too bad all the audience gets to do is watched the diminished returns of the movie itself.

You know a movie is lazy when it feels like roughly 40% of the jokes are taken directly from the original script, and they seem fresher than the new jokes that it attempts.  You know a movie is really lazy when it resorts to showing you clips from the first movie in different scenes.  And you know a movie has completely given up when you give two characters an entire conversation about Hollywood sequels, and how lame it is that they just repeat a successful formula from years ago.  Just like 1988's Coming to America, this film combines a fish out of water story with a sweet, old fashioned romantic comedy.  At the time, it marked Eddie Murphy's first attempt at a romantic lead, and it genuinely worked.  This time, the romantic plot is centered on a young couple new to this sequel, and the sparks are just not there.  The original couple of Murphy and Shari Headley are here too, but are mostly relegated to forgettable subplots, and don't get to share the chemistry that we remember.

As the film opens, we are reunited with Prince Akeem (Murphy) of Zamunda, who is about to become the ruler of his African Kingdom, as his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is on his deathbed.  The King is not hopeful about his son's chances at being a ruler, and believes that Akeem will be assassinated within a week after taking his throne.  After a lavish and celebrity cameo-filled funeral for the former King, Akeem finds himself facing a dire situation for his kingdom.  The neighboring nation of Nextdooria (ho, ho) is threatening to invade Zamunda, and its insane war lord ruler General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) says the only way to prevent the attack is if the two countries are united by an arranged marriage.  Izzi has a daughter who is ready to wed someone from the Zamunda Royal Family, but the only problem is that Akeem only has three daughters, and it is law that a male heir must sit on the throne.  

Luckily, there might be a solution.  When Akeem visited Queens, New York in order to find his true love some 30 years ago in the original film, we learn that he encountered two women during a night of bar-hopping, and that one of them drugged him and forced herself on him.  Yes, that's right, the screenwriters have decided to dilute the memories fans have of the original by adding an element of date rape that was conveniently never mentioned before.  If that's not a horrific way to add a plot element, I don't know what is.  Turns out the woman from long ago, Mary (Leslie Jones), has a son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), and that he is Akeem's long-lost son.  Now King Akeem and his faithful friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) must return to America in order to track down Lavelle, and convince him to marry the General's daughter in order to save Zamunda.  

Even though Murphy is the top-billed star in Coming 2 America, the real story revolves around Lavelle and him learning that he is of a Royal bloodline.  We follow him as he learns about Zamunda and its culture, as well as how he slowly begins to fall in love with his groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), rather than with the woman that he is being arranged to marry.  Not only is the whole "follow your heart" storyline recycled from the original, but the character of Lavelle and the performance by Fowler just simply are not able to hold the attention of the audience.  He lacks the innocent comedic charm that Murphy had in spades back in 88, and his relationship with the lovely Mirembe has no real passion.  They fall in love simply as a plot convenience, not because they share any real chemistry or personality.  Lavelle and his crude, obnoxious family (who often act like they stepped out of a Tyler Perry comedy) are the main focus here, while Murphy and his returning co-stars mainly get to react to their antics.  Something tells me that's not what fans were expecting from this sequel.

To combat this, we get a lot of throwbacks and repeats of the same jokes from the first movie.  The old men at the barber shop (who are once again all portrayed by Murphy and Hall) are still arguing about boxing, there's a return performance from the band Sexual Chocolate, we learn that McDowell's restaurant is still around and just barely avoiding lawsuits from a more famous fast food chain, and when all else fails, the movie will simply resort to clips from the original movie in order to stir up memories.  All of this simply rams two points home.  1:) The writers were grasping at straws to play up on any nostalgia whatsoever, and 2:) The original probably didn't need a follow up in the first place.  It was a perfectly self-sustained movie that left no lingering questions unanswered.  This is a sequel that never bothers to answer why it needed to be made in the first place, outside of corporate greed.


The only reason to watch Coming 2 America is for the costumes, which are admittedly beautiful, and this is also a lovely film to look at most of the time.  It's been beautifully helmed by director Craig Brewer, who worked with Murphy on his last film, Dolemite is My Name.  Maybe the studio thought reteaming the two would cause lightning to strike twice.  The difference is that previous movie had a real script that had been carefully thought out.  This script is simply soulless, shameless, and unnecessary. 

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