What is this, velvet?
Eddie Murphy offers a royal sketch to fans of the original
Coming 2 America (Amazon Prime Video) is plush with nostalgia, as Eddie Murphy delivers a heaping spoonful of laughs specifically to fans of the 1988 comedy, Coming to America. If you’ve come to see the Eddie and Arsenio magic as billed in the promotions, you’ll find it. In fact, very little has changed since 1988; Zamunda has been patiently waiting for us, just as we left it.
If you expect fun + funny you’ll get it. Keen for classic Eddie + a bit of velvet? You win. If you’re watching and comparing to films not from 1988, well…
For all the characteristic silliness coupled with big names – and it is truly a catwalk of luminaries – the movie itself doesn’t give us much substance. Filmed in 2019 before the world changed, one would still have expected to see a movie with some character development – embracing the 30 years that have passed rather than relying on the previous film to hold it up.
The narrative follows newly-crowned King Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy, thirty years after his initial trip to America. Following the 100-year-old rules of his country, he’s maneuvering for a male heir in his household of women.
His oldest daughter, played by Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, The Old Guard) is prepared to take over but would be acting as wife and Queen only, not ruling. In frozen-in-time Zamunda, we’re following tradition.
Luckily, 30 years ago Prince Akeem did ‘sow his royal oats’ before finding his love, Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley). So, he and right-hand-man Semmi (reprised by Arsenio Hall) head back to New York to claim his royal son.
All that happens A LOT more easily than one would imagine. It seems like the guys spend more time in the barbershop than meeting his son. Everyone, for the most part, does as King Akeem wishes. The basic layout may have worked if the writers had spent a little more time thinking about a story they wanted to tell, rather than focusing on trooping out the old gang and leaving them hanging there, suspended in time.
King Akeem doesn’t arc – he changes his mind, some rules – but he doesn’t evolve. With big issues like a new family member and the succession of his kingdom, he never has a discussion with anyone in his family – his son and daughter in particular. He just makes a royal decision that affects them all. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a huge autocratic miss today.
Jermaine Fowler is charming as Lavelle Junson, the kid from Queens who becomes a Zamundian Prince. He takes to it rather well but sadly we don’t get the chance to see much depth in Lavelle. It feels like it’s the lack of script that impels us to dismiss his motivations, leaving us with – avarice? Nothing better to do?
The pageant additionally includes Morgan Freeman, Leslie Jones as Mary Junson (Lavelle’s Momz), Tracy Morgan and many, many more.
The character that works the least is the typically on-point Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi. He plays a power-crazed next-door leader out to marry his children into the Joffer family in the name of alliance. He’s the villain but it lands a little too goofily.
Directed by Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan, Hustle & Flow), he previously worked with both Murphy and Snipes on Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix). Imagine what it was like on set, the daily reunions and struggle to ‘direct’ force-of-nature Murphy, especially when paired with Hall. Still, that’s the job.
Takes from past and present are smoothly edited even adding in ‘new’ old scenes and making it work seamlessly. According to a story on Looper, James Earl Jones wasn’t able to appear on set but all his moments are smoothly edited in. As ever, just hearing his voice is a complete delight and he’s looking grandly regal at age 90. And his party – what a celebration of life – the team can indisputably put the ‘fun’ in funeral!
Grand sets and imaginative costuming are gratifying. As expected there are miracles with make-up, creating an additional three personae each for Murphy and Hall. The music stands out with some great tunes old and new as well. Gladys Knight, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa lead the power-packed ensemble of idols. Of the fresh tunes, pre-released ‘I’m A King’ by Bobby Sessions and Megan Thee Stallion is catchy and play-list worthy.
For the most part, its great fun seeing the old gang together, in all their guises and with a slew of new faces too. As a comedic piece, it’s funny just as you’d anticipate. That was never really a question, especially when you look at the talent.
The plot though is disappointing, suffering the curse of sequels wasting too much time on old gags at the expense of storytelling. The set up offered several potential directions and went down the obvious path at each intersection, repeating the past, in a like-father-like-son route but without offering any new perspective.
All that talent packed into one studio, and some big themes around gender roles, tradition, leadership and the responsibility of power – leaves you craving a little more core. Additionally, the end felt rushed, like a cap thwacked on top after hitting ideal run-time.
If you’re seeking something unexpected, that’s not happening here. But if you loved the original, all your old friends are back. Just think of this as a bonus-length sketch and enjoy the ride!
*See Coming 2 America from March 5th 2021 on Amazon Prime Video, and let us know what you think below!