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2 Coming 2 America

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Sequels are always hit-or-miss propositions. Even film franchises, where sequels are baked into the equation, can struggle with making sequels work. But what about those sequels to films that clearly were not intended to have sequels? How do you go back and continue a story that already had a satisfactory conclusion?

Well, now you can find out, thanks to Eddie Murphy.

“Coming 2 America” is the direct sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America,” Murphy’s absolute all-timer of a comedy. Directed by Craig Brewer, this new film offers a 33-years-later look at these characters; just about everyone from the cast of the first film is back, along with a few high-profile additions.

It’s an exercise in nostalgia, for sure – one that perhaps isn’t as successful as it hoped to be. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I’ll concede that my own personal affection for the original film likely impacted my experience with this new offering. That said, it has plenty of issues – the narrative loses coherence in spots and gets clunky in others; too often, everyone seems content to say “Hey! Remember this?” (and some of the characters haven’t aged particularly well).

In the African country of Zamunda, Prince Akeem (Murphy) is preparing to assume the throne from his ailing father King Jaffe (James Earl Jones, “The Lion King”). By his side is Lisa (Shari Headley, “Three’s Complicated”), the queen he found in Queens decades ago. Their three daughters – Tinashe (Akiley Love in her debut), Omma (Bella Murphy in her debut) and Meeka (KiKi Layne, “The Old Guard”) – have been raised much as Akeem was; as the eldest, Meeka has trained to assume power, even though Zamundan tradition prohibits a woman from inheriting the throne.

It is a time of unrest in the region. Tensions between Zamunda and neighboring nation Nextdoria (yes, really) are mounting, but there’s a pending solution. Nextdoria’s military leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes, “Cut Throat City”) offers that his son might wed Meeka in order to unite the two nations. It’s viewed as the only possible solution, since Akeem lacks a male heir.

Or does he?

A prophecy leads to a confession from Akeem’s longtime companion Semmi (Arsenio Hall, “Sandy Wexler”) which in turn leads to a discovery that, due to an unremembered dalliance during their decades-past adventure in Queens, Akeem may have a male heir after all.

Akeem and Semmi return to Queens in an effort to track down the heir, who turns out to be a hustling-but-struggling young man named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler, “The Opening Act”). Akeem looks to bring Lavelle back to Zamunda, but he won’t go alone, so it isn’t long before his mother Mary (Leslie Jones, “The Angry Birds Movie 2”) and his Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan, TV’s “The Last O.G.”) are along for the ride.

But much like Akeem himself sought to find true love and true connection, so too does Lavelle, even as he and his family struggle to adjust to the culture shock of moving into the lap of luxury. He’s trying to learn how to be royalty … and not doing all that well. When he finds a confidante in his personal groomer Mirembe (Nomozamo Mbatha, “Hotel Called Memory”), he starts to question everything – but those questions could put the well-being of all of Zamunda in danger.

Just to be clear off the top: I had a great time with “Coming 2 America.” As someone with a deep and ongoing affection for the first film, I was delighted to get the chance to spend time with some these people again. It was an unexpected opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

However, I also have no illusions about the overall effectiveness of the film; on its own merits, it’s a middling effort. There are some funny bits, to be sure, but they’re sporadic – particularly if you aren’t very familiar with the original. So many of the jokes, such as they are, boil down to reminding the viewer about jokes from the first movie.

Honestly, once that initial blast of nostalgic delight subsides, a lot of the returning characters don’t really have much purpose. But again – for me, the memory is the point. They gave me Arsenio Hall as the unsettling and vaguely gross Reverend Brown. They gave me Eddie Murphy as Randy Watson fronting Sexual Chocolate. And you better believe they gave me the barbershop crew, with Hall as Morris and Murphy as both Clarence and Saul alongside Clint Smith. That’s what I wanted. What they said and did once they arrived didn’t matter as much.

“Coming 2 America” is definitely an uneven experience. There’s a lot going on and things get a little messy at times; the whole thing feels just a little overstuffed. Maybe they could have stood to lose one of the hybrid African dance/marching band entrance/exit/celebration sequences, though the truth is that the biggest bloat likely comes from the need to fan service everything – when I say that everybody is back, I mean it … and even brief scenes and cameos add up.

This is the sort of movie where it seems as though everyone involved had a pretty good time. Murphy isn’t great at masking when he’s checked out of a project, so it was nice to see that twinkle in his eye throughout this film – by all appearances, he was enjoying himself immensely. Hall has never been a strong actor; “Coming to America” was far and away the best work he ever did. The sequel is second – he’s also enjoying himself, and the comedic chemistry between him and Murphy remains rock-solid. And while the shtick does get a little tired at times, it’s fun to watch them don their wigs and prosthetics and fat suits and just get weird.

The supporting cast handles their business. While many of the returning actors – John Amos, Louis Anderson, Paul Bates – are there largely to simply carry forward the bit, Sherri Headley gets a chance to get after it a little, which is nice. As for the newcomers, Fowler hangs in there, though for whatever reason, he fails to fully click. Jones and Morgan both go for it in the ways in which only they can go for it. The only one who goes for it more is Wesley Snipes, whose delight at being part of this shines through in every scene. And there’s quite a selection of cameos.

“Coming 2 America” isn’t a great movie, but I had a great time. If you’re looking for some nostalgic chuckles, you will too. If you want more than that, well … keep on going.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 08 March 2021 17:44

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