Coming to America is a surprising cultural touchstone. Eddie Murphy, possibly the greatest showman of that era, leads an all-Black ensemble of casts for a feel-good titular journey. He’s portraying Prince Akeem Joffer from Zamunda, a wealthy African monarch country whose on-screen luster precedes Wakanda in recent history. The film’s bold guts to choose how a Black community is portrayed and represented is a landmark of its own, even when its broad slapstick and shades of misogyny often draw egregious legacy.
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33 years later, while Murphy‘s stardom hasn’t shone as bright as he was in the 80s, a Prime Video bound sequel gets a necessary pick-up. Craig Brewer, the man who confidently dances along swear words and foul-mouthed jokes with the main actor in Dolemite Is My Name, takes up the directorial mantle. Brewer‘s campier repertoire makes him a perfect gamble that works better than coasting John Landis back in 1988. Coming 2 America sees the crown prince back to the place where he found his love, Queens. But, will it just be a trip down memory lane? The empathic answer is “yes” but that can mean for good or worse at the same time.
Coming 2 America comes with a graceful theme: fatherhood. The ultra-pampered Prince Akeem is not a prodigal son anymore. He’s now had three daughters from his marriage with Lisa (Shari Headley). The three daughters are introduced with a call-back to our introduction to Akeem back then; only this time, it’s painted more positively and respectfully like some kind of redemption to the ignorant misogyny in the original film. This sexual tension will be the main conflict in this sequel. As the King (James Earl Jones) lays dying on his deathbed, the son-less Akeem is doomed for he has no rightful heir according to Zamundan law.
That’s where a royal witch informs Akeem that he has a son out of wedlock back in Queens. Burdened with royal responsibilities and an imminent political threat by a neighboring ruler, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), Akeem travels back to where it all started with his aide, Semmi (Arsenio Hall). There he must find Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), his illegitimate son with a party girl (Leslie Jones) he met during one bad, stoned night. What comes next is a cleverly-yet-sluggishly written retread of Akeem’s first journey to the US. Queens is a completely different place now but the infamous barbershop is still intact; and so is the notorious McDowell.
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Most elements in Coming 2 America almost exclusively work for those who have been revisiting the original film recently. Some events mirror their counterparts in Coming to America even when sometimes resulting in different outcomes. The CGI-laden scene where Murphy and Akeem portray their younger self is a much-welcomed callback; however, where this scene leads up is rather frustrating and cringeworthy. While the barbershop scene is an asylum to Murphy and Hall‘s zeal from the 80s, this film compensates it with a more empowering emancipatory narrative. There’s a slight generational shift, but the general theme remains similar. It’s Akeem’s quest for identity. Once it’s a quest carried out by a coming-of-age prince; now, it’s one carried by a humbled father, who, despite his progressive thought, is overshadowed by the ghost of a father he wouldn’t be for his equally stunning daughters.
By recycling heaps of pivotal elements from the original film as its backbone, Coming 2 America takes the risks to plunge into the pit of sequels no one asked for (which ironically is discussed on screen). The constant retreading that juxtaposes the newly developed plot makes it a little convoluted in the middle and the comedy short-lived, even when Snipes offers an interesting upgrade. What this sequel does best is cementing the original film’s reputation as a cultural touchstone, even at the cost of itself.