I'm an artist, a writer, a director, a film critic and occasionally I cook. Here I will be mainly focusing on film critiquing.
Eddie Murphy the Legend
So I already discussed in my review for the original 1988 Coming to America a lot about my past experience with Eddie Murphy’s filmography and how his movies were a big part of my family’s recreation time. If anyone is a tad interested in my thoughts on the original movie or how much my family loved getting together watching Eddie Murphy’s flicks, go check out the link! For me personally, Coming to America is a classic, and Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest and earliest comedic influences in my life. My dad and I would watch his iconic standup performances, Raw & Delirious, practically on repeat because we loved them so much. Same goes for a lot of his movies, pretty much anything from 1982’s 48 Hrs. all the way to even 2003’s The Haunted Mansion. If it were playing on TV, then my family likely popped it on. No, not everything was pure gold in Eddie’s filmography, but his energy and personality always kept me and my family coming back for more.
To this day I recognize a lot of the strange nuances that I picked up from Eddie Murphy’s style of comedy; his childlike goofy energy, foulmouthed abrasiveness, and his spontaneous impressions at a moment’s notice are all elements I inherited in my own comedy. I owe a lot of thanks to Eddie Murphy for forming how I make my friends and family laugh. Truthfully, I couldn’t thank him enough for all the hilarious entertainment he’s put out there in the world. If there was one single comedian in all of history that I would declare as my favorite and most influential, it’s easily Eddie Murphy. Now with all that said… please forgive me for kind of hating Coming 2 America.
As it is fairly safe to say that Eddie Murphy has had a pretty long running-slump. Starting approximately after the disastrous commercial and financial failure that was 2002’s The Adventures of Pluto Nash, it seemed Eddie’s film career had trouble recovering. There was the occasional success along the way of course, but nothing was really hitting the heights this talented man deserved, especially after Murphy seemed to be on a kick to work in A LOT of kid’s flicks. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the scripts weren’t exactly ‘A’ material for him to work with.
Then finally came a film that Eddie seemed genuinely able to sink his teeth into, 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name; a movie which I regret not putting in my top 10 films of 2019, however it was at least in my honorable mentions! To me, it was invigorating to see someone I grew up watching for years come back with this great comedy capturing the spirit of Rudy Ray Moore and shedding a cool light on the Blaxploitation of the 1970s. It’s just too bad that Eddie’s follow-up couldn’t match that greatness.
Several years have passed since the events in 1988 of Prince Akeem’s love story with Lisa (Eddie Murphy & Shari Headley). Now newly appointed as king of Zamunda, Akeem discovers he has a long-lost son (Jermaine Fowler) back in the America and he must return to meet this unexpected heir so he may make him a prince to one day take his father’s place as king.
I Wanted to Like It…
I’m not going to beat around the bush here when I say I somewhat hated watching this sequel to a beloved classic of mine. Admittedly I did go in slightly hesitant after seeing a trailer for Coming 2 America, yet I wholeheartedly really wanted to like it. And for approximately the first 15 minutes I was actually enjoying my visit back to Zamunda, seeing how Akeem’s life has grown with his wife and three daughters. It was also equally as satisfying to see John Amos return briefly as Lisa’s kooky father running his obvious McDonald’s knock-off restaurant, McDowell’s, in Africa. Not to mention, watching Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall reunite brought the biggest smile to my face as I truly loved their goofy banters in the first film. I wouldn’t say that any of it was truthfully reaching any grand heights of comedy in those first 15 to 20 minutes, but I did at least find some aspects likable… and then things take a turn for the worse and I’m stuck for the next hour and a half in total annoyance.
Going straight into what I find the biggest issues with, Akeem’s son Lavelle is the number one problem and all that comes with him. Nothing against actor Jermaine Fowler as I feel with better direction he probably could have been completely fine, however this character he’s playing and the particular style of comedy brought with really f*cking sucks! As soon as Akeem’s son is introduced into the story, my disinterest grew immensely.
First of all, this is an inconsistent character that I reserve absolutely no investment in for a number of reasons:
- Lavelle starts off as a ‘down on his luck’ type of character, but then later on comes across more as a lazy mooch who holds no clear morals in life and has the personality of an obnoxious jackass.
- Lavelle turns into less of a character and more the actor completely aware of the fact that he’s starring in a comedy, so he becomes a cartoonish caricature constantly spewing an onslaught of lame modern jokes and references without any thought put into why they’d ever be funny.
- His underdeveloped story arc takes up a majority of the runtime, forcing him as more or less the lead character while the rest of the cast is shoved to the side, yet his plot thread is simply a lazy rehashing of Akeem’s love story from the ’88 original.
- Lavelle’s specific love story isn’t remotely believable and gives me zero reason to ever entrust in his character’s “convictions” because he declares such an “undying love” to a woman he shared maybe a nice chat or two with prior. Which, by the way, only a couple scenes prior he instantly agreed to marry a general’s daughter strictly because she was hot. Ergo, his romance is a joke.
- He’s just irritating to watch as he hijacks the entire movie from characters we already know and like.
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I couldn’t stand Akeem’s son honestly, between his idiotic antics with Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan, incorporating an excessive amount of unfunny adlibbing, to his exhaustive character arc being a significantly lesser version of the first film’s romance drove me completely insane. Literally if everything about this “bastard son” was cut out, I could easily find a lot of redeemable qualities about the film and I’m sure if given the chance would have been fleshed out in some truly interesting ways. Yet the film is more preoccupied with Akeem’s son overshadowing everyone and everything else, then because he takes up such a large chunk of the screenplay I can’t even try to pretend being interested in anything else going on with any of the other characters because it feels as though they are all barely a footnote to Lavelle.
Eddie Murphy as King Akeem/Clarence/Saul/Randy Watson
Eddie Murphy is a goddamn treasure and I’ll fight anyone who says different. In all seriousness, it was quite the delight seeing Eddie back as Akeem and where his character wound up after all these years. In his multiple performances, I could tell that he seemed genuinely happy to be reprising these characters again and bringing them back to life, as well as a couple good laughs along the way. In my review of the original movie, I declared Akeem to be one of Eddie Murphy’s more unique characters because it doesn’t strictly fit into the typical ‘Eddie Murphy’ mold seen in most of his filmography. Rather than a quick-witted smart ass, we have a relatively naïve optimist and I completely love him for that.
So it was certainly nice seeing Akeem back. Unfortunately, it felt extremely short-lived as he is not the main character in his own movie. Granted, I do respect the fact that Coming 2 America did attempt to create somewhat of an ensemble piece, although kind of failed as I would argue it’s Jermaine Fowler’s movie more than anyone else’s. Due to this misstep in direction, our beloved Akeem gets shafted relatively hard and only delegated to some of the most trite material we’ve seen countless times before. Playing the neglectful father who doesn’t realize the error of his ways until the third act when someone has run off and he has to race to that person before it’s too late, losing them forever from a terrible misunderstanding… yadda, yadda, yadda; you know the drill.
What Was the Point?
What was the point of making a Coming to America sequel, bringing all these actors back after 33 years just to squander everyone involved? Seriously?? Why?! James Earl Jones is in this movie for all of four minutes of screen time before *SPOILER ALERT* his character is killed off. John Amos seemingly manages to be given even less screen time than Jones and his character actually survives the whole movie! Shari Headley, the heart of the original’s romance, is now nothing more than a glorified cameo. One of my favorite parts of the first picture was Arsenio Hall’s comradery with Eddie Murphy… in the sequel, I legitimately forgot that Arsenio’s Semmi was even in this movie. Don’t even get me started on the smaller guest appearances by Louie Anderson, Vanessa Bell Calloway, and Paul Bates.
This just makes zero sense to me as to why in the hell everyone gathered together for this long awaited reunion only to push all their characters off to the side so far to the point where they practically don’t matter to the story at all. Hell, like I said before, even Eddie himself hardly feels all that pertinent to anything going on as this movie is mainly hijacked by the new characters played by Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, KiKi Layne, and so on. Not to mention the relentless celebrity cameos made by Morgan Freeman, Salt n Pepa, Gladys Knight, and Trevor Noah also taking up much needed time that should’ve been spent with our leads.
The Comedy That Knows It’s a Comedy
Something I was concerned about going into the sequel was if it would take a more modern approach to what most comedies do nowadays; which is to not have fleshed out characters, but to have actors who act fully aware of the fact they’re in a comedy, so nobody takes their roles the slightest bit seriously as they choose to constantly use pop culture references and buzz words of the week in a sad reach to appeal to the younger audience who has likely never even seen the first movie… not entirely sure why that’s the demographic we’re aiming for while alienating true supporters of the original flick, but alright… f*ck me, I guess.
Hopefully no one misinterprets my frustration here as blaming any of the newcomers or cameo appearances to be poorly acted or performed in any way, that’s not what I’m saying at all. My point is that this script is stretching itself thin with juggling a lot of characters all at once while a lot of these characters end up not ever feeling genuine or funny because of the poor direction given to the actors. For example, Leslie Jones is a hilarious comic who was admittedly one of the very few parts I found funny about the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot; in this movie though… she was extremely grating on my nerves. Which I don’t actually find to be her fault, technically speaking, I feel that if she were given better direction to commit to a real character rather than playing as a ‘ghetto joke machine’ then maybe I could have gotten invested or maybe there could have been a genuine laugh earned. Instead all I’m getting from her performance is irritation because at no point am I watching a supporting character with any form of an arc or likable personality, I’m simply getting Leslie Jones doing an unfunny standup routine in the middle of a movie. Same goes for a majority of the new cast for that matter.
So… apparently in the first movie, Akeem was date raped? And I’m not too sure how to feel about that because at no point in the movie does it feel as though it is deemed as a bad thing. To elaborate a little more on the subject; in a flash back sequence, it is revealed that Leslie Jones’s character drugs Akeem before he ever meets Lisa and proceeds to have sex with him, thus kickstarting the whole plot of the secretly lost son of New York. Instead of acknowledging the fact that this is… you know… morally f*cked up, they joke about it and then Akeem is later berated by his wife for the act… the act of HIM being RAPED. To me, this wasn’t thought out too much. Yes, I understand that this is supposed to be a goofy zany comedy where rules kind of fly out the window. However, I feel as though if the gender roles were reversed, people would be screaming “fowl” to this scene. But because it’s a woman date raping a man, that’s somehow perceived as alright and funny, which I find to be weird and creepy. In all honesty, this is the least of the sequel’s problems, but it was something I couldn’t gloss over so swiftly as the script did.
Wesley Snipes as General Izzi
Not only was 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name a comeback for Eddie Murphy, but also for Wesley Snipes as Snipes turned in one of the funniest supporting performances I’ve seen in quite some time. It was truly remarkable seeing Wesley Snipes come to life again, having a total blast being this alcoholic director drinking his way through a disastrous production had me laughing my ass off. He was fantastic and I was excited to see him join Eddie for another movie. Thankfully, Wesley Snipes as General Izzi was electric as ever as I could tell he was relishing every minute playing this quirky dictator who reads to kids and then tells them to go play with grenades immediately after. While I wish there were more material for this character to shine in, the limited scenes we do get are still pretty fun to watch.
One thing I was admiring about re-watching the ’88 film was the amount of production value thrown into such a simple romantic comedy. Containing such a large budget to achieve gorgeous African inspired costuming, grand scale palace sets, well-crafted makeup work by Rick Baker, luscious matte paintings, and even real African elephants roaming around alongside our actors on screen. Going into the second movie, I was hopeful they would retain that high quality filmmaking from the first… of course that wasn’t the case at all as this production chose the route of CGI to take the place of decent practical work. Granted, there still was some decent makeup work seen for the extra characters played by Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, which was much appreciated. However, the rest of the visual effects were spotty at best.
I won’t lie that I was hugely let down to see our characters walking through the lands of ‘Green Screen Central’ as computer generated animals farted for a desperate chuckle… I will admit that these aren’t the worst special effects I’ve ever seen, but I was never close to being immersed in this world of pixels either. Although the worst effects in the entire film, hands down, goes to the de-aging effects for Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in a flashback sequence explaining Akeem’s “bastard son.” At first the effect wasn’t terrible and even somewhat convincing, but then as the scene goes along things begin to fall apart quick as I’m fairly certain they used ‘deep fake’ technology to recapture Eddie in his youth, yet the actor standing in his place obviously had to remain extremely stiff and any time he did move too much, the face would distort heavily or his head would unnaturally float over his neck. It was an admirable attempt, I suppose, but the execution did not meet the demand in the slightest. A bad effect that becomes all the more glaring when we compare them to the solid makeup work done on Eddie and Arsenio later on.
Song & Dance
Yet again I reminisce back to the original movie, the music was terrific with its combination of pop, tribal, urban, and classical elements inside the soundtrack. Then the big dance number in the first act was spontaneous, energetic and fun while the cinematography was able to take it all in. Then moving forward into the sequel, it all feels hollow with no rhyme or reason, only existing in a misguided effort to ‘one-up’ its predecessor. Then the editing on top of all these song and dance numbers are so quickly jumbled together, I never feel as though I’m able to the enjoy the choreography. Some of the musical score is decent when it harkens back to the direction the first movie took, but for the most part is buried by cringeworthy modern rap stylings or celebrity song appearances.
A Feminist Approach
If there was one single facet I was almost able to admire about Coming 2 America, it was the somewhat subtle feminist theme introduced towards the last act. Throughout Lavelle’s training to become a prince of Zamunda, he has to learn his country’s history and his own heritage; looking back into hundreds of years of male heirs who took the throne. Never at any point shining an overbearing negative light on the male rule of the country, eventually revealing in the third act the power and inspiration the queens of their respective times held as well as how much Akeem’s own mother was important to the evolution of Zamunda’s culture as she supported her son’s choice to love and marry whoever he so chose.
Only problem with this being that it isn’t given nearly enough time to flesh those ideas out, even though the foundation has been laid, the focus doesn’t allow much screen time to delve deeper into stronger feminism themes. Mostly resulting in an undercooked concept with good intentions, yet lacking in structure. Which is a shame because if it weren’t for the fact that this plot revolved so heavily on Lavelle then I think there really could have been something here. Honestly if the screenplay had went into a direction cutting the “bastard son” completely out and centering on the relationship between Akeem and his eldest daughter, Meeka (KiKi Layne), the story along with the feminism angle could have possibly flourished.
Retaining the first act to a degree where King Akeem’s father passes away, leaving him struggling with a dilemma to either keep hold of Zamunda’s traditional ways of having a male heir as ruler or to progress their laws to include a queen to properly rule on her own when the time comes for his daughter to take the throne; all that while a lunatic dictator Wesley Snipes is forcing their hand by threatening war… there are so many possibilities that could have been explored there, yet the writers thought it was a good idea to dilly dally with improv dialog and lazily remake the original with new characters while our original cast sits around with their thumbs up their asses. Awesome.
Thinking back on every awful detail of my experience, I cannot begin to describe the level of disappointment I feel in Coming 2 America. It’s as though an old friend has finally returned after decades of being lost only to see he’s raided my fridge and sh*t in my last good pair of shoes. Also, I could have sworn I had fifteen bucks in my wallet before he came to visit. Anyways, this was a goddamn disaster for me that I wanted desperately to love or at the very least like, yet I couldn’t. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t. With maybe the occasional laugh or two, mainly from the first 15 minutes and Wesley Snipes, then an endless string of misery and depression to follow suit.
To sum it all up; the premise and execution of Akeem’s son is headache inducing, the jokes rarely land while predominantly cause my blood to boil, the celebrity cameos are excessive, the computer effects are mediocre, the “heart” of the story is a sad excuse to recreate the first movie, and I am just saddened by things that make me sad. Seriously, I’m bummed out by this sequel failing so miserably. I wanted this movie to succeed, I want Eddie Murphy to succeed. I suppose I can take comfort in the few glimmers of light this sequel struggled to achieve; such as the performances by Eddie, Arsenio, and Wesley putting in their 100% to garner up some laughs as best they could.
Unfortunately I believe the script and the director dropped the ball hard on this one as it should have been given to someone who could take charge of this production, like John Landis had done with the ’88 flick. Not to say director Craig Brewer isn’t a capable talent because he’s obviously shown in the past how well he can produce a feature. He was, after all, the director behind Eddie’s own comeback, Dolemite Is My Name. Yet this time I think he loosened the reigns too much and it bit him in the ass for it. Being the optimist that I am, my fingers are crossed that this will generate better movies to come from Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes so we can efficiently move forward from this travesty. Although it doesn’t change the fact that I’m pissed off how robbed I was from an exciting follow-up to one of my childhood favorite comedies… mother f*cker.
Which Trip to America Was Better?
That’s All Folks…
Coming 2 America… f*ck it. Why are comedy sequels so hard to make? Did you like or dislike this sequel? Agree or disagree? Which I was covered in hippopotamus sh*t? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a damn better day than me!
© 2021 John Plocar