Eddie Murphy was damned near unstoppable in the ‘80s. He’s one of the youngest and funniest cast members “Saturday Night Live” has ever had. He was in a string of movies and stand-up specials that were both critically and commercially viable, i.e. “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places,” “Eddie Murphy: Delirious,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Eddie Murphy: Raw” and “Coming to America.” Murphy’s only real missteps during the Me Decade were “Best Defense” and “The Golden Child.”
The ‘90s and aughts weren’t nearly as kind to Murphy. His only real standouts were “The Nutty Professor,” “Metro,” “Life,” “Bowfinger,” voicing Donkey in “Shrek” and a dramatic supporting turn in “Dreamgirls.” He made a comeback of sorts a coupla years back by teaming with director Craig Brewer for Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name.” He’s now reteamed with Brewer to revisit one of his greatest successes almost 33 years after its release with “Coming 2 America,” which is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Prince Akeem (Murphy) has been living a life of marital bliss with Lisa (Shari Headley) in the fictional African country of Zamunda for the past 30 years. They have three daughters together – Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Murphy’s real-life daughter, Bella) and Tinashe (Akiley Love). Nearby fellow leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) wants to wed his son Idi (Rotimi) to Meeka to ensure trade relations and peace between his people and the Zamundans.
Meeka has no want or need to wed Idi. She has intentions of her own hoping to one day rule Zamunda as its Queen. Unfortunately for Meeka, Zamunda has traditions decreeing that only male heirs are fit to lead. Sadder still, Prince Akeem has just been informed by his faithful servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) that he has an illegitimate son spurred from a night of drinking and inadvertent drugging with Mary Junson (Leslie Jones) back in Queens, N.Y.
Enter Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), 30-year-old ticket scalper and future heir to the Zamundan throne. Akeem and Semmi return to Queens in order to retrieve Lavelle, bring him back to Zamunda and marry him off to Izzi’s daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), but Lavelle has ideas of his own and a lot of them involve royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).
Comedy sequels often enact a law of diminishing returns and sequels coming many years after their predecessor can feel stale. Both of these assertions hold weight with “Coming 2 America,” but that doesn’t mean the movie’s without positive attributes of its own. “Coming to America” is a high bar to hurdle – one that “Coming 2 America” doesn’t clear, but by flipping the fish out of water concept to focus on Fowler’s Lavelle adjusting to Zamundan society and royal customs the picture is lent a personality all its own. It helps greatly that Fowler’s fairly likable and often funny putting a new spin on old tricks. Murphy’s Akeem may be face on the poster, but Lavelle is ultimately the main character.
The pro-woman messaging employed by returning screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield as well as franchise newcomer Kenya Barris (“Black-ish”) is obvious but ultimately welcome and worthwhile. Layne does good work with this subplot and gives audiences a secondary character to root for, but she doesn’t impress to the same degree she did in “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “The Old Guard.” (This is more a reflection of the project as opposed to the performer. I still think this young lady’s gonna be a big ol’ star.)
The picture isn’t as romantic as its predecessor in spite of solid chemistry between Fowler and Mbatha. The flick isn’t consistently funny either, but it’s never less than entertaining. Most of the movie’s laughs are derived by Murphy and Hall jettisoning their primary characters to revisit old favorites such as barber shop inhabitants Clarence, Saul and Morris, Reverend Brown and Randy Watson. It’s also nice to see the returns of James Earl Jones and John Amos despite them having limited screen time. New additions Jones and Tracy Morgan (as Lavelle’s Uncle Reem) contribute a handful of chuckles. Fellow newbie Snipes doesn’t fare as well, which is surprising as he was so inspired working with Murphy and Brewer on “Dolemite Is My Name” … the dude’s just super-weird here – less ha ha and more nah nah.
I’d naively hoped “Coming 2 America” would hit the heights of “Coming to America” or “Dolemite Is My Name,” and it fails on both accounts. In spite of this, it’s an entertaining-enough sequel that’s better than the likes of “Teen Wolf Too,” “Caddyshack II,” “Weekend at Bernie’s II,” “Beverly Hills Cop III,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Son of the Mask” or any comedy Murphy’s appeared in over the last 20 years or so.