Coming 2 America is a fun trip back in time: Review
The original Coming to America is a treasure, an endlessly rewatchable modern classic that blends rom-com sweetness with standalone sketch-comedy brilliance. ("Sexual chocolate!") The story of coddled African Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), who travels to Queens and falls for an impressive beauty named Lisa (Shari Headley), Coming to America went on to become the second-highest-grossing movie of 1988. (That's all the more impressive given its predominantly Black cast, a true rarity for the time.)
Naturally, this makes the prospect of a sequel — especially after 33 years! — all the more worrisome. Anyone who bears a deep and protective affection for the original (as I do) will likely approach Coming 2 America with trepidation and a silent prayer: Please, please, I just don't want this movie to make me sad. It is, therefore, a joy to report that Coming 2 America (March 5 on Amazon Prime) is cute and fun, a lovingly made exercise in nostalgia that delivers several genuine laughs, even if it never achieves the comedic excellence of its predecessor.
It's a beautiful day in the (fictional) African nation of Zamunda, as Prince Akeem and Princess Lisa prepare to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary with their three daughters: Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy, Eddie's daughter), and Tinashe (Akiley Love). Though King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is now on his deathbed, the past three decades have treated the royal family, and their loyal aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall), very well. Zamunda is thriving — it even has a brand-new McDowell's franchise — and the country enjoys a tentative peace with its neighboring nation, Nexdoria. But the anniversary is marred by a vision from the King's mouthy shaman Baba (also Hall): Zamunda will fall to Nexdoria's flamboyant military dictator General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) unless Akeem goes to Queens to locate Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), the son he never knew he had, and installs him as successor.
A secret son? But Akeem never stepped out on Lisa MacDowell! That's not canon! There, there, reader, Coming 2 America hears your concerns. The movie goes to great lengths to explain how (and when) the prince wound up having a one-night stand with a Queens woman named Mary (Leslie Jones) 30 years ago. No spoilers here, but viewers should prepare themselves for a flashback sequence that uses wildly disconcerting de-aging CGI for Murphy and Hall, the results of which fall somewhere between those Tom Cruise deepfakes and the uncanny valley of Tom Hanks in The Polar Express. From there, the film flips the fish-out-of-water premise from the original, as Lavelle — along with his mom and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) — heads to Africa to tackle Zamunda's "princely test" and secure his birthright.
Written by Kenya Barris (black-ish) with Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield (who penned the 1988 hit), Coming 2 America strives for the joke-packed feel of the first film. Punchlines are slipped in everywhere, from the voiceover on ZNN (Zamunda News Network) to the lyrics sung by the choir backing Gladys Knight as she belts out "Midnight Train From Zamunda." The celebrity cameos are judicious — including an especially clever nod to Trading Places featuring Colin Jost as a casually racist hiring manager. Snipes is hilarious as General Izzi, an imperious blowhard who peacocks into every room with jubilantly exaggerated swagger.
Deep-cut callbacks and surprise appearances from the original abound, and every fan-favorite character gets at least one showcase moment. John Amos' Clio MacDowell is still fighting those McDonald's lawyers (his restaurant's answer to the McFlurry is inspired), and Princess Lisa delivers the dressing-down Akeem needs about his country's arcane and sexist laws that forbid women from holding power. Murphy and Hall slip back into their decades-old characters with moderate ease, though Coming 2 America's biggest laughs come from the duo's ancillary roles as Clarence, Morris, and Saul, a.k.a. the MY-T-SHARP barbershop crew. ("I want a woman so Black, when you make love you need a flashlight!")
The script is a little drag-and-drop at times, echoing story points and dialogue from the original too closely. Comedian and writer Fowler has sufficient charm, but a romantic subplot between Lavelle and a royal groomer named Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) feels rushed and perfunctory. Still, the inevitable third-act wobbliness gives way to a boisterous final blowout that will leave fans giddy. Will Coming 2 America have the legacy of the first film? Probably not. But unlike tying one's own shoes, it is not an overrated experience. Grade: B
(Video provided by Amazon)