Coming to America was a hit for Eddie Murphy in 1988, whose idea turned into a full-fledged comedy at the height of his career. Centred on the crown price Akeem Joffer of the fictional country, Zamunda, his lavish lifestyle takes a turn when he’s presented with an arranged bride-to-be. Setting off to find an independent New York woman who loves him in spite of his status, the romcom blended fish-out-of-water comedy with fairy tale. A box office sensation, the comedy was met with mixed reviews in response to the slapstick spin on romantic comedy, Murphy’s subdued performance and what was deemed an unoriginal script.
Coming 2 America is an unnecessary sequel or reboot, something the characters actually make reference to in their dissection of present day Hollywood. Ironically, falling into the very category they’re lambasting, this comedy hasn’t learned much from Round 1. It’s not quite as slapstick as Adam Sandler’s Blended or Leon Schuster’s Mr Bones but it’s in the same ballpark when it comes to entertainment value. The timing of Coming 2 America makes it seem like it was prompted by the Hollywood African renaissance on the back of Black Panther’s repositioning of Africa or the live-action remake of The Lion King. It’s mostly uninspired, harnessing the star power of its predominantly black ensemble but following through in a professional fashion.
While they’ve managed to assemble a sharp comedy cast, with many actors reprising their roles from the original, the screenplay is half-baked. Africa has become a Hollywood commodity, depicting the fairy tale version in most iterations. This naïve representation makes for an unintentionally camp portrayal with mediocre CGI heightening this effect, written as if none of the screenwriters have actually been to Africa. This could have worked masterfully if Coming 2 America had been lightly scripted with more of an emphasis on improv, think Christopher Guest. Considering the wealth of comedians, it could have had a lot more bite, charm and laughs but as it stands, it’s an out-of-touch film experience.
“Zathura? ZAMUNDA. Right next to Nambabswani.”
Besides the persistence of African stereotypes, one of its biggest problems is trying to identify the film’s main character. Being the young upstart of the original, a sequel would ordinarily fall to the character going on the same journey. Unfortunately, Murphy’s headline name, weighting and possibly ego offsets the balance and puts him in an awkward position as the sideshow slash main attraction. Perhaps framing the film from the begotten son’s perspective would have made more sense in terms of storytelling for a rinse-and-repeat. Still, there’s not enough confidence in Jermaine Fowler who plays Akeem’s son, Lavelle.
Eddie Murphy has been a comedy force and a headline act for decades. He was a newcomer when he starred in Trading Places, subsequently hiring and reteaming with director John Landis in favour of directing the original Coming to America himself. Landis didn’t return for the sequel, instead handing the royal reins over to Dolemite Is My Name’s Craig Brewer. Murphy was a powerhouse as Dolemite, echoing this edgy triumph with his equally impressive co-star Wesley Snipes, who made the jump to Coming 2 America. Whether staying true to the character or not feeling like the kingpin, his performance lacks his trademark livewire flair. Snipes on the other hand is one of Coming 2 America’s secret weapons as General Izzi. Arsenio Hall plays many characters here, the best of which is Baba the witch doctor, who could’ve featured in an Indiana Jones film.
The original film was nominated for two Oscars when it came to make up and hair. This attention to detail is present in the sequel, possibly taking a page from the flamboyant opulence of Black Panther’s Wakanda. Continuing the legacy when it comes to style, this is one of the highlights of Coming 2 America, eye-popping in terms of pageantry at times blending dance choreography and music to play like a musical. The original had a pilot TV series planned, maybe the sequel’s hinting at the possibility of a stage adaptation.
Coming 2 America probably seemed like a lot of fun on paper. Unfortunately without passion or anyone truly stepping up to own it, it’s a case of simply going through the motions. Is it a reverse-engineered sequel of Coming to America or in search of Black Panther’s phenomenal success? No one knows. It does seem like a missed opportunity and while the musical element adds some pizzazz, with one or two lightly amusing moments, this sequel lacks charm and is ultimately lacklustre and underwhelming.
The bottom line: Half-baked