Coming 2 America, 2021.
Directed by Craig Brewer.
Starring Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Shari Headley, Teyana Taylor, Michael Blackson, Louie Anderson, Paul Bates, Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, KiKi Layne, Rick Ross, John Amos, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tracy Morgan, Clint Smith, Rotimi, Nomzamo Mbatha, Luenell, Bella Murphy, Trevor Noah, and Morgan Freeman.
The African monarch Akeem learns he has a long-lost son in the United States and must return to America to meet this unexpected heir and build a relationship with his son.
Among many things, Coming 2 America is a confounding title given that most of the sequel takes place in the fictional prosperous African country of Zamunda. At that point, why not just call the movie Coming to Zamunda? Especially seeing as the narrative involves an illegitimate son of the soon-to-be Royal King Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy returning to the beloved role and character 30 years later) traveling to the land and learning the customs in order to take his rightful place as the king’s heir. With that said, it’s pretty much the same movie as the original but with flipped perspectives. If nothing else, director Craig Brewer (not a bad choice to helm this sequel considering his all-around talent and having recently collaborated with Eddie Murphy on the gem Dolemite is My Name) and the multitude of writers understand the messages and lessons of the John Landis hit from 1988, and how to translate them to this variation of this story, but the fatal blow is that they come up short on actually making a funny movie.
It’s not a sign of good writing when the funniest jokes in Coming 2 America are using characters and settings from the first movie as a crutch; the barbershop, McDonald’s ripoff McDowell’s, a perverted reverend, and even short clips from the original itself (although mainly for the greater context of the plot set up) register as more amusing than any of the new additions or attempts at fleshing out the heritage and traditions of Zamunda. Again, that’s doubly not good when barely 30 minutes are spent inside Queens, New York.
Simultaneously, this could be forgiven somewhat if there was a strong and emotionally resonant story to be told with Coming 2 America, but it’s all hinged on a synopsis that makes way for an ending so utterly predictable that you would have to not even be familiar with the movies to not have a firm grasp of the direction this is going to go. That’s not to say the movie takes the wrong route, because in truth it goes the only correct route to take a story centered on the long-standing Zamunda traditions of women not allowed to rule regardless of how hard they study or train.
King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones, who gets a fantastic sendoff here in what might be the best sequence of the movie and one of the only genuinely funny ones at that, complete with some terrific cameos) is on his deathbed but, as Akeem has only given birth to daughters, they have no one to take over as the new Prince. However, through baffling hearsay, they learn of an illegitimate child conceived during the initial visit to Queens. Now, if you have seen Coming to America such as myself, you probably read the logline to this sequel and instantly became skeptical at how such a thing could even be possible considering the primary theme of that film was not just true love but true connection. Needless to say, the filmmakers have found a way, and let’s just say I don’t want to hear anyone say anymore that comedies can’t get away with doing problematic things. The backstory to this movie is gross but also fitting given the raunchy nature of not only its predecessor but also the setting of that movie.
Keep in mind, that’s not a knock against this sequel, as it’s actually easy to be with it until a certain point. Jermaine Fowler plays Lavelle Junson, not really appreciated by New York and struggling against the system of privileged white employers who would rather play therapist and make bold accusations about his life rather than hire him. It’s not a surprise that he’s pretty willing to move across the world to Zamunda upon finding out he has royal blood, with his mother and uncle (played by the respectively funny Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan) eager to follow suit with the only reservation being that they are the ones that have raised him and that it will not drive a rift between their family dynamic. While Akeem is far more open-minded and accepting than his father ever was as King, complications do arise with the aforementioned traditions and requirements to officially being bestowed royalty, and with his eldest daughter (Kiki Layne) who has more than put in the work to take on some heavy duties not happy about the situation.
In the middle of all this is Wesley Snipes taking over the role of General Izzi from the neighboring land of Nexdooria, pushing for an arrangement with one of his daughters, otherwise prepared to cause trouble. Lavelle is at first open to this until falling in love with someone else. Meanwhile, Akeem and Lisa (pleasantly played by a returning Shari Headley) don’t see eye to eye on everything, which turns out to be an intriguing aspect as the King gets more than what he bargained for insisting that he fall in love with someone that this is equal and has a mind of her own, not existing to be subservient. By now it should be evident that there’s a lot going on here and no real specific focus, but this is one dynamic that could have benefited from more exploration.
Around the halfway mark, Coming 2 America starts to feel too comfortable telling the same story about love and finding identity, where none of the new characters make a real impression. One of the tests for Lavelle to earn his royalty involves obtaining the whiskers of a live lion, which just isn’t amusing or entertaining. It’s nice that this time around there’s a budget to show off Zamunda with riches and glamour and culture (the costume design from the legendary Ruth E. Carter is outstanding), but that seems to be where all the effort went.
Coming 2 America has the right idea, it’s just missing the humor and heart despite game performances from everyone involved, including Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall once again playing multiple kooky side characters. It’s also bound to disappoint anyone that wants to see what the title itself advertises, but that’s another matter entirely. It’s reverse fish out of water humor telling the same story with diminishing results.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com