With Eddie Murphy being largely absent from the spotlight for the last two decades, what better way for him to make a return then reprising the role of one of his most beloved characters. Coming 2 America is a sequel that has arrived over three decades after the release of its predecessor, and it has released exclusively for Amazon Prime subscribers. Recently, I checked out the newly-released movie to see how it stacked up against the 1988 original, but sadly whilst my expectations were low, it still managed to disappoint.
The sequel sees King Akeem return to Queens, New York, more than three decades after the events of the first film. Instead of setting out to "sow his royal oats," the catalyst for Akeem's journey this time is to find his illegitimate son, as he lacks a male heir to the throne. Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), a jobless college dropout, is understandably a little awestruck when his royal heritage comes to light and he initially turns down Akeem's offer to return back with him to Zamunda. This hesitation doesn't last for long though, as he is eventually swayed after gazing at the obscene amount of cash contained within Semmi's briefcase.
The plot here is pretty much the original film turned on its head. In the first film we saw Akeem struggle with day-to-day life within Queens, as he moved into a shady apartment filled with chalk outlines and had to undertake mundane tasks like mopping in his first very job at McDowell's. The sequel, despite being called Coming 2 America, takes place almost exclusively within Zamunda, and it follows Lavelle's struggle with adjusting to his new lavish lifestyle. Whilst the fancy palace and oodles of cash seemed enticing at first, Lavelle soon starts to see the flaws of his new reality, as he is pressured into an arranged marriage and must demonstrate his princely courage by snipping off the whiskers of a lion.
The casting here is excellent with everybody from Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall right down to even the smallest one note characters reprising their roles. It shows great care and attention to detail that even characters like McDowell's worker Maurice (Louie Anderson) show up even just for a brief period. Alongside these returning stars, there's appearances from acclaimed actors such as Morgan Freeman and Wesley Snipes. Freeman makes an unexpected appearance by saying a few words at the king's funeral and Snipes knocks out of the park playing as General Izzi, the eccentric leader of the fictional nation of Nextdoria.
Whilst beloved characters such as Akeem and Semmi are present, they take a backseat here and allow the new additions to the cast to take the spotlight. The problem with this, however, is that Lavelle, his mother (Leslie Jones) and his uncle (Tracy Morgan) struggle to feel relatable and are more like parodies than grounded characters. Lavelle essentially is a less charming modern day equivalent of his father with him essentially repeating the very same actions and Leslie Jones' character desperately tries to inject some humour to the script by acting loud and obnoxious and demonstrating the disconnect between both worlds.
Whilst Murphy has remained active by starring in a handful of movies here and there over the years, Coming 2 America marks one of his largest on screen roles in almost two decades. The actor here does a respectful job in reprising his role and playing a new incarnation of Akeem that is almost unrecognisable to the one we saw back in 1988. His presence here might be fleeting, but he still does a great job of portraying how Akeem has changed as a character and has become motivated purely by tradition much like his father.
Call-backs to the original are plentiful here and whilst some prove to be hilarious others feel needlessly crammed in in an effort to evoke nostalgia. When watching both movies back to back as I did it was surprising to see just how many jokes had been recycled and reused (the royal privates line doesn't have quite the same punch when used again for the second time). The original jokes that are present here mostly fall flat. King Akeem asking his daughters whether his look is "on fleek," for example, is a painful example of the writers trying and failing to score a few laughs with throwaway pop culture references.
It's not all tragic in this regard though, as there are a few occasional fun call-backs. Clarence, the barber and friends never failed to make me crack a smile whenever they appeared on screen, and it was hilarious to think that Akeem's former wife was still barking like a dog and hopping on one leg three decades later.
Whilst it was great to see the original cast come together once more, I couldn't help but feel like Coming 2 America was a needless sequel. Its story feels almost like a carbon copy of the original with less likeable characters at the forefront, and its humour mainly relies on forced pop culture references and recycled jokes. There are some respectful performances here by the likes of Snipes and Murphy, but even these stars couldn't save a script that was essentially doomed to begin with. Perhaps the film put it best when it said on the subject of sequels "if something is good, why ruin it?"