‘Coming 2 America’ is a more of a nostalgic celebration than a winning comedy

“Coming 2 America” – It’s been 33 years since we last saw Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) travel from The Kingdom of Zamunda to Queens, NY.  Why Queens?  By name alone, it must be the locale where Akeem can find a worthy match for a royal wedding, right?

“Coming to America” arrived in theatres in June 1988, and Murphy and Hall’s buddy flick quickly became one of the most memorable comedies of the decade, at least to me, a Gen Xer, who was on summer break between my freshman and sophomore year of college at the time.  Although I can’t be the only one who loves the movie, because this rated-R Prince-out-of-Water story was the second highest-grossing film of that year with a box office take of $128 million, only behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”.

Not to take away from the groundbreaking live-action/animated bunny-film wonder, but I have fonder – and more easily accessible – memories of “Coming to America”.

“While you’re in a clapping mood, I’d like you to give a big round of applause to my band, Sexual Chocolate.” – Randy Watson (Murphy)

“I have recently been placed in charge of garbage.” – Prince Akeem

“Yes, yes.  F*** you too.” – Prince Akeem

The list goes on and on.

Well, it’s three decades later, and screenwriters David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein are back for a long-overdue follow-up to their 1988 hit.  Screenwriter Kenya Barris (“Girls Trip” (2017), “Shaft” (2019)) along with director Craig Brewer (“Footloose” (2011), “Dolemite Is My Name” (2019)) join the sequel-party.

With great regret, I don’t think that “Coming 2 America” is a worthy sequel, at least as a comedic running mate.  Instead, it seems that Brewer, Sheffield, Blaustein, and Barris were hyper-focused on celebrating the original film by constructing a movie that feels like a family reunion rather than a brand-new, forward-thinking comedy.

The new picture does take painstaking effort to find special moments to reintroduce several familiar, beloved characters – both major and minor ones – to the screen.  Fans should experience legitimate thrills seeing these on-screen personalities from Queens and Zamunda again, and from that perspective, the filmmakers kept the original movie’s devotees in mind.

On the other hand, the script maddeningly flies on autopilot.  Our aforementioned, well-acquainted friends only declare slightly different versions of the same jokes and gags from the original picture.  Sure, it’s a ball to reunite with them, but there’s nothing fresh or new here.

If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it.

I suppose that’s true, but the “Police Academy” series kept that same mentality for seven pictures, and those films became tiresome in a hurry.  You get the point.

What’s the point of “Coming 2 America”?

Well, Prince Akeem and Princess Lisa (Shari Headley) live in lush harmony and riches in Zamunda.  Although Lisa seems frequently bothered, and she carries all the warmth an OCD librarian coping with Johnny Knoxville screaming the alphabet through a megaphone.  If Akeem and Lisa are enjoying a happy marriage, Murphy and Headley offer zero evidence of that (potential) fact.

However, they do have three daughters, but Akeem does not have a male heir, which creates regal problems for the royal lineage down the road.

Like magic – or rather, the birds and bees – Akeem does have a son, one conceived 30 years ago during his first trip to Queens, and now, he and Semmi return to The Big Apple to meet him and fly him back to his new home in Africa.

Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) is the young man in question and agrees to visit, along with his biological mom Mary (Leslie Jones).  His Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) joins a bit later.  It turns out that Lavelle falls into the same life-pattern as his dad and wishes to marry a woman for love rather than through a formal arrangement.

Unfortunately, Lavelle and a royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) chew up precious screen time through a meandering courtship.  This creates two painful impacts.  Yes, they seem like a lovely couple, but neither one utters a funny line throughout the entire picture. Simultaneously, their on-screen presence takes away from Murphy, Hall, Jones, and Morgan.  This “joke-well” runs dry from about the movie’s halfway point until the last 10 minutes, as I wondered – for an awfully long stretch – how “Coming 2 America” became a 1990s Sunday afternoon Lifetime Network TV movie.

The film goes that far off the comedic rails as Zamunda morphs into Dullsville.

Still, the locale is a spectacular paradise with massive, manicured grounds, a sprawling palace, and big-game African mammals frequenting the frame.  Kudos to art directors Thomas Valentine and Kristen Sherwin and costume designer Ruth E. Carter and Kairo Courts.  Carter worked on “Black Panther” (2018), and wow, her style and talents are on full display.  With a film budget of $60 million, Carter makes it seem that $50 million was spent on costumes, as scores of extras and our leading players sport luxurious, opulent dresses and Dashikis.  She and Courts contribute to a fully-honored ambiance during every second spent in Zamunda.

The fashions and several impressive, extravagant dance sequences offer plenty of sights and sounds to distract us from a predictable, rote script that contains infrequent spots for genuine belly laughs.  As far as new characters, Jones’ Mary could be the lone highlight, although Wesley Snipes – as General Izzi – has some amusing moments too.  Jones is a blast, and in addition, some very big cameos pop on-screen.  Indeed, “Coming 2 America” carries tip-top star power, but we need it.

Sigh, 33 years seems so long ago.

⭐⭐  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits: Amazon Prime Video

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