“Coming 2 America,” an Amazon Prime exclusive and the recently released sequel to the legendary 1988 Eddie Murphy film, “Coming to America,” is unfortunately a 33-year let-down. The original director, John Landis, doesn’t make a return; instead, Murphy reunites with “Dolemite” director, Craig Brewer. Coming into this film expecting a level of improvement over the original or at least something just as good will unfortunately leave many disappointed. Although there are some redeeming moments, the film is a fairly steep regression in quality that lacks a lot of what made the 1988 classic an experience worth watching.
The opening scenes return viewers to the fictional African Kingdom of Zamunda from the original movie. Recognizably, time has passed as Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) are now mature parents with three bright, young daughters named Meeka (Kiki Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy) and Tinashe (Akiley Love). Driving the plot, Prince Akeem and his aging father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), discuss succession to the throne. The elder monarch believes his son is too weak to rule and fears that he will only get assassinated by the leader of Zamunda’s rival nation, Nextdoria. A “King’s Only” law prevents any of Akeem’s daughters to inherit the kingdom alone without an appropriate suiter. There is a limit of just two choices: either Meeka must marry the detestable son of Nextdoria’s ruler, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), or Prince Akeem will have to return to Queens, New York to search for his long-lost son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler). After being pressured, Prince Akeem agrees to travel to the United States with his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to attempt to find and bond with Lavelle.
One of the primary culprits that hurts the enjoyability of the film is its overall lack of originality. Jumping out of the gate, it quickly becomes clear that the film wants to use nostalgia from the original to influence the new story. The opening scene of the Zamundan palace and the accompanied African music track is an immediate callback to the very same iconic scene in the first movie. Following that, the audience is then reintroduced to recognizable characters, albeit in the form of brief cameos. Flashbacks are also common and use digital technology to change the appearances of actors to appear younger. A few scenes from the 1988 film are also taken exactly as they were and are mixed in to help tell the story. To its credit, long-time fans will appreciate the endearing trips down memory lane. However, the theme of referencing the past becomes such a frequent and ongoing occurrence that it wears out its initial welcome very fast.
Other disappointing features of the sequel that stand out are its poor character development and writing. The first film, while not perfect, had better written characters that were more interesting and relatable. Notably, Prince Akeem himself had a lot more going for him in terms of personality and dialogue. He was a kind and gentle bright-eyed 21-year-old whose dialogue helped guide and center the movie in a compelling way. In the sequel, he’s reduced in his role and does no more than serve as a backdrop character to others. Additionally, his wife Lisa, who also played a large role in the original, is also greatly limited. Many of the characters suffer the same treatment of being introduced for cameo purposes and then fading away to be forgotten later.
It gets worse as new characters such as Meeka, Omma, Tinashe and several other key characters seem to not get much screen time, and when they do, it’s unimportant dialogue that does little to make an impact on anything. However, the highlights are Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall reprising their roles in make-up for the various characters they portrayed in the last film. The jokes they make are politically incorrect and are still funny for a PG-13 movie — a downgrade from the original’s R rating. Contemporary references to modern gentrification, Barack Obama, Teslas and more are sure to delight.
The sequel’s pacing is also off and there are too many mini storylines going on and it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening or where the story will go next. The introduction of Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), the Zumundan love-interest of Lavelle whom he secretly wants to marry as opposed to Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), feels hollow and rushed. The stereotypical “ghetto” performances of characters like Mary Junsen (Leslie Jones) and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) are also notably cringeworthy. The pair are both unnecessarily loud, rude and obnoxious to the point where it only reinforces negative racial associations. Their addition is questionable as the focus of the original film centered on depicting Black people as regal and sophisticated.
After a long 33-year hiatus, “Coming 2 America” is a sequel that ultimately wasn’t worth the wait. The film has its moments that are sure to provoke a chuckle, but the cons outweigh the pros for this revisit to the African nation of Zamunda.
Verdict: “Coming 2 America” isn’t a total failure and gets a few things right. Unfortunately, it’s a movie that bores with its unoriginality and is too flawed. Ultimately, it’s a disappointing follow-up to a great 1988 Black romantic comedy that inspired generations by it’s charm, humor and positive representations of a regal African society.