Eddie Murphy does it again, this time by taking a step back and sharing the stage with a packed cast.
Confession time: I thought I was going to hate Coming 2 America. The trailer made the film look like a needless retread of the first film. Not just recycled bits, but pretty much a whole redo, Airplane 2 style. The original is a classic. I was pretty sure the sequel, more than 30 years late to the party, was going to tarnish my enjoyment of that film.
Well, cut to the chase, I loved Coming 2 America. The film follows and echoes themes from the original while creating its own personality. And that personality is fun and generous. The film easily could have been the Eddie and Arsenio show 2.0, but the established actors have the grace to let the stellar cast around them shine.
Coming 2 America (2021)
Newly minted King Akeem of Zamunda (Eddie Murphy) learns he has a long-lost son in the United States. With Zamundan law requiring the title pass to a male child, Akeem must return to America to meet this unexpected heir and build a relationship with his son.
All in the Family.
It was a wise decision to bring this sequel out with a PG-13 rating. Those used to the sassy and confrontational comedies Murphy made famous in the 80’s may question it, but the step back in tone really helps the film’s identity shine. At heart this is a story about family – the one you’re born with and the one you choose. An R rating worked for Prince Akeem trying to get married; PG-13 works great for King Akeem discovering what it takes to be a husband and father.
Don’t get me wrong: Eddie and company certainly get plenty of jokes in, and the film revels in bawdy, bodily humor. At the end of the day, Coming 2 America just feels…wholesome? It’s the kind of movie that leaves you feeling good with a smile on your face.
Coming 2 Zamunda.
The trailer does the film a disservice by focusing so much on Akeem back in America. Yeah, they want you to know all the familiar faces are returning, but more than anything the trailer created the impression that we were getting a carbon copy of the first film. In actuality only about 10% of the film takes place in Queens. Most of the movie is all about Zamunda, which is a great choice.
Inverting the original, the fish out of water story is now Akeem’s son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), trying to figure out how he fits in with the royal family in Zamunda. It allows the heart of the movie to flourish, provides for a ton of great comedy, and helps build the characters up. It also lets us experience Zamunda (and next door neighbor, Nextdoria) in all of their vibrant, gorgeous, and silly glory.
Not Holding Court.
Coming 2 America is packed top to bottom with talent. Some is expected: you know the established duo of Murphy and Arsenio are going to be funny. The nice thing is, that even playing about a dozen rolls between them, they don’t hog the limelight. The script gives every character and story-thread room to thrive.
The new characters are fantastic: Fowler is strong as Lavelle, and is met measure for measure by Meeka (Kiki Layne), Akeem’s oldest daughter and (rightful) heir to the throne. Leslie Jones plays Lavelle’s mother, and she just knocks it out of the park. That’s not even mentioning Wesley Snipes as the ruthless, pea-cocking dictator of Nextdoria!
Most of the original cast return, not matter how small the role. The king’s minister who belted out the sexy soul music in the first film? Yeah, he’s back, and still knocking it dead. John Amos, of Beastmaster fame, returns as the president of the dubiously legal McDowell’s restaurant chain (now celebrating their first foreign franchise in Zamunda!) Shari Headly returns as Akeem’s love and queen, Lisa, and she and Murphy have a great rapport. Even the rapping twin sisters who Akeem and Semmi speed-dated in the first film get a hilarious call back.
And then you have all of the surprise cameos. Did you think James Earl Jones’ King Joffer was going to get his eulogy read by anybody? Nope, he got Morgan Freeman to do it. And Salt-n-Pepa, En Vogue, and Galdys Knight to do the music. In Zamunda, Trevor Noah delivers the news. The film even has the always delightful Dikembe Mutombo in it, because who doesn’t need more Dikembe Mutombo?
Some Times You Can Go Back.
I have to say that Hollywood is rolling solid strikes lately revisiting old comedies. First Bill and Ted get the band back together, and now Eddie and Arsenio make another successful journey to Queens. Despite trepidation, this film won me over with its heart and humor. It’s a triumphant return to Zamunda. Long live the king!