Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Craig Brewer
Seeking a male heir to the throne of Zamunda, now King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) discovers that he has a son (Jermaine Fowler) living in America.
1988’s Coming To America marked the first time Eddie Murphy played multiple characters in a film (the makeup received an Oscar nomination, alongside Scrooged and eventual winner Beetlejuice), and provided us with a range of hilarious, memorable characters. Many of which (also played by Arsenio Hall) pop up for brief cameos in this sequel. Murphy returns as Prince Akeem, heir to the throne of Zamunda. The last thirty years seem to have been free of worries and stresses. However, his happily married family life, still with wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and three daughters, is interrupted when he is made king after the ceremonial passing away of his father (James Early Jones). It is revealed that he needs to find a male heir to the throne, in a country where women are not allowed to rule. Luckily, he has a, unknown to him, son in America from his late-80’s quest to find a Queen in Queens, New York.
Thus Akeem, with friend and aide Semmi (Hall), make a quick trip back to America where they find ticket resaler Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Just as soon as they arrived, the pair go back to Zamunda – bringing with them Lavelle and his loud mother (Leslie Jones), bathing in the glory and riches of royal Zamundan life. This is more Lavelle’s story than anyone else’s. Original Coming To America writers David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, with Kenya Barris, focus on his rise to princedom, completing the tasks he needs to in order to become the heir to the throne – this is certainly less Coming To America, more Coming To Zamunda. This training causes rifts in Akeem’s family relationships, his wife angered by the appearance of the until now unknown Mary (Jones) and Lavelle – Headley seems assigned to the far diminished disapproving wife role – and eldest daughter Meeka (Kiki Layne), who could have otherwise possibly been the aim.
Zamunda is certainly a land that has potential and much to be explored, and it’s easy enough to get lost in the production design and Ruth E. Carter’s costumes, however, with all the plot elements the film holds there seems little room to properly invest in it. While the film tries to focus on Lavelle, Akeem’s story is still very much present as he worries about not just his future but that over the nation he rules, still holding outdated traditions to limit the authority of women. With all this going on in comes Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, the leader of neighbouring country Nextdoria – a joke which seems funnier on paper – himself trying to take control of Akeem’s land after his sister was made to look a fool by him through a failed arranged marriage. Izzi is attempting to arrange a marriage between his son or daughter to Akeem’s, after a number of grand, musical entrances into expansive halls and gatherings. Snipes is clearly having a great time being a part of this film and truly gets into his character – he’s a highlight of many scenes, what else would you expect from someone described as “the inspiration for Mufasa”? However, with little screentime, and not much to do, his character, like many, feels rather wasted.
This is all in-between catching up with multiple, slightly more wrinkled, faces such as Randy Watson, Rev. Brown and, of course, the residents of My-T-Sharp barbershop for flash in the pan appearances. The first 20 minutes of this sequel largely seem to call back to the original film, and use its high reputation to its advantage for various celebrity cameos. It takes a while to get going and admittedly there are some decent scenes throughout. Perhaps not a great deal of laughs, despite some good ideas and moments every now and then, but the film certainly isn’t unlikeable. The issues come in with the various plot elements, most of which call back to the original film – a particular line sees Akeem seem more like his father and Lavelle put into his father’s shoes from the 80’s. There simply seems to be too much going on, with a lot left in the background for lengthy periods of time, for the film to feel overall satisfying instead of muddled for focus – both in terms of story and character.
During the credits John Legend covers She’s Your Queen (occasionally equally high-pitched) from the first film, one of my personal favourite moments from the John Landis classic. Much like the sequel, it’s good, and calls back to the original film well enough, but seems to lack a full punch, and Wesley Snipes. Unlike the sequel it has one direct focus and doesn’t quite seem to be as busy with its content.
Coming 2 America is a busy sequel, in terms of its various characters, narrative arcs and throwbacks to the original film. There’s potential to explore and advance Zamunda from an outside perspective, and the film isn’t bad, but it feels muddled for focus even amongst the occasionally amusing throwbacks and original beats.