Coming 2 America is a lifeless detour without any of the humor or incisive critique of the original.
John Landis’ 1988 Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America is, frankly, justly beloved. Although it’s full of now-dated stereotypes and off-color humor, it’s also — much like Landis and Murphy’s other landmark collaboration, Trading Places — a terrific, very sweet and winningly funny blaxploitation flick that’s backgrounded with a sharp, thoughtful critique about class in late-’80s America. You’d be forgiven for hoping that Coming 2 America, the new sequel helmed by Craig Brewer — who’s so far made nothing but exceptionally empathetic, thorny exploitation movies largely centered on marginalized groups — would be able to take this material and really shape it into something special. Alas.
Picking up three decades after the original, Zamunda’s Prince Akeem (Murphy) has been married to Lisa (Shari Headley), the woman he found and fell for all those years ago in Queens, and is father to three daughters…none of whom are allowed by Zamunda’s arcane laws and customs to assume the throne. With trouble beyond the border from rival country Nexdoria’s military junta led by General Izzy (Wesley Snipes, really wonderfully hamming it up), and Akeem about to become King as his father (James Earl Jones) passes away, it’s time to head back to America to find the long-lost, illegitimate son Akeem fathered in a goofy, CGI-de-aged retcon scene.
Hijinks ensue with son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his mother (Leslie Jones), and their, shall we say, less sophisticated manner brushing up against the pomp and protocol of Zamunda’s court — more than once do the Americans reference Black Panther’s Wakanda. The first film put two contrasting versions of Blackness next to each other and watched an extremely wealthy, privileged man experience both marginalization and aspiration with the McDowell family. Here, Lavelle is only briefly seen wanting to break out of his side hustle scalping tickets to break into tech — a world that doesn’t want him anyway — before being swept away to Zamunda. He’s the ostensible fish out of water here, but all we see is him chafing against the court’s rules before a quick scene at the end in which he realizes that royalty isn’t what he’s seeking. There’s no actual narrative experience, just a lot of goofy scenes involving callbacks and dick jokes. Similarly, Akeem has no real through-line. Presumably, this is all in an effort to preserve his country, but it takes him the entire movie to realize that he could have just — should have just — put his extraordinarily qualified eldest daughter in charge, damn the rules. It’s pat from the very beginning, and nothing particularly risky ever arises.
And despite its title, very little of Coming 2 America takes place in the States, except for a few scenes re-hashing the famous multiple old-man roles of the My-T-Sharp barbershop (how all those geriatrics are still alive today is blissfully never addressed). The original’s gorgeous, snowy New York location work has been replaced with a Georgia soundstage and green screens. Brewer’s normally cagey direction — lots of handheld, scope frames, rhythmic edits — has been replaced with an almost sitcom-ish formal blandness. What at one point was an almost fable-like story of the dubiousness of assimilation and reflected aspirations has been stripped of all of its texture and timely uncomfortable truths, replaced here predominantly with crummy dick jokes, cameos, and dull platitudes. This is simply not alive anymore.
You can stream Craig Brewer’s Coming 2 America on Amazon beginning March 5.