A film review by Craig J. Koban March 18, 2021


2021, PG-13, 110 mins.

Eddie Murphy as King Akeem  /  James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer  /  Arsenio Hall as Semmi  /  Jermaine Fowler as Lavelle  /  Shari Headley as Lisa McDowell  /  Teyana Taylor as Bopoto  /  Wesley Snipes as General Izzi  /  Leslie Jones as Lavelle's Mother  /  KiKi Layne as Akeem's Daughter  /  John Amos as Cleo McDowell  /  Vanessa Bell Calloway as Imani Izzi

Directed by Craig Brewer  /  Written by Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Justin Kanew




The best compliment that I'll give COMING 2 AMERICA is that I enjoyed being in the company of its characters again after a very long thirty-plus year absence.  

I only wished, though, that the film built around these people was more engaging and enjoyable.  

This long gestating sequel to the Eddie Murphy starring, John Landis directed 1988 original features a return trip back to the colorful and eclectic world of Zamunda, and it's not without its modest charms.  I enjoyed the first installment, but will concede that I don't consider it essential viewing within the pantheon of great Murphy starring vehicles at the peak of his popularity (many also wrongly consider COMING TO AMERICA 1 a "cult film," which is silly considering that it was a massive worldwide box office success and featured one of the most popular actors of the era).  There are bright moments of inspired merriment in round two (which incidentally re-teams Murphy with his DOLEMITE IS MY NAME director in Craig Brewer), but I nevertheless found this to be a mostly forgettable and uninspired sequel that regrettably lacks consistent laughs. 

For those that forget the basic plot of COMING TO AMERICA, here's a quick refresher: It concerned an equal twentysomething Prince Akeem (Murphy) or Zamunda secretly journeying against his father/king's wishes to find the true woman of his dreams to marry in America (Queens, to be precise).  The premise had an economical, fairy tale like allure that made solid usage of Murphy's obvious talents.  Flashforward 33 years and the older and somewhat wiser Akeem lives a fruitful life back in his home country with his New York raised wife in Queen Lisa (Shari Headley) and their daughters, including the eldest and most determined in Meeka (KiKi Layne), who could easily and proudly lead Zamunda if anything were to happen to her father or grandfather.  Speaking of the latter, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) is nearing the end of his life, leaving Akeem to easily take over in the process.  There's just one thing that gnaws away at the frail Jaffe: Only male heirs can become king, and since Akeem has three daughters and no sons that creates a problem for succession.  Akeem loves and supports his daughters as equals, and even though he thinks they would be worthwhile and future rulers, the staunch and longstanding tradition of Zamunda succession doesn't allow for such changes.   



Rather conveniently, Akeem learns from his trusted and lifelong aid in Semmi (Arsenio Hall) a shocking secret: When they were both in Queens all of those years ago and on the prowl for lady love Akeem was drugged by Mary (Leslie Jones) and later had sex with her without ever recalling it.  And, yup, he did indeed father a male child that he has known nothing about for all of these years (this is shown in a flashback sequence using some surprisingly convincing de-aging VFX for the parties in question).  Realizing what he must do, Akeem decides to return to Queens with Semmi in tow to seek out Mary and her now adult son in  Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and return the pair back to Africa to prep him for his royal life to come.  Learning the ropes of his new environment and heritage is tricky for Lavelle at first, but he slowly starts to get the hang of it while getting sweet with his royal groomer in Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).  Things get very complicated for Akeem and his newly revealed son, however, with the appearance of General Izzi of the neighboring Nextdori (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), who demands that Lavelle arrangement-marries his daughter in Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), which, yes, seems suspiciously similar to the predicament that Akeem faced in the first film; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in this cinematic universe. 

One thing that deserves a shout out in COMING 2 AMERICA is its attempts to modernize the material to an extent (let's face it, the Zamunda of the last film was a pretty masochistic society where men came first and women came a very distant second).  Attempts at commenting of gender equality here is welcome, especially when it comes towards the development of Akeem's daughters, who rightfully seem equal to the task and prepared to challenge the archaic-minded patriarchal leadership legacy in their nation.  Obviously, some willingness on the makers part here would have to come in terms of dealing with some of the more overt sexist traditions of Zamunda of the past, and I liked how empowered the daughters are here as characters.  One of the problems inherent with this, though, is that the screenplay by Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Justin Kanew doesn't really develop them very much as intriguing and three dimensional characters, which is made obvious when it becomes clear that COMING 2 AMERICA will once again be about the plight of a male character securing love and fulfillment.  Not making the focus of this new tale on the daughters seems like one glorious missed creative opportunity.   

In the early stages at least, it's kind of a hoot to see Murphy, Hall, and company reprise these roles once again, and Murphy in particular seems assertively comfortable as Akeem, albeit this time he's older, a bit wiser, and not so amusingly naive about everything transpiring around him.  It's a bit disappointing to have Akeem be delegated to the sidelines of this narrative, which now hones in on the discovery of his son in Lavelle and how he essentially faces the same thorny fish out of water quandary that his father did decades ago (granted, in reverse, as the son has to acclimate to Zamunda life and culture).  It's sort of odd how very little of COMING 2 AMERICA actually takes place in America (despite its heavy advertising), and after a very brief voyage there by Akeem to collect the fruit of his loins, the action then comes back to Zamunda for the remainder of the picture.  The geographically change is not entirely a bad thing, mind you, but when it boils right down to it this follow-up film is just rehashing the core plot of its predecessor with some minor tweaks and alterations.  COMING 2 AMERICA does what good sequels should do by expanding upon the world established by its antecedent, but in terms of innovation it's pretty much of the rehash variety. 

This is all not assisted by the fact that the core romantic angle of this film in Javelle and Mirembe doesn't seem as engaging this go around.  Fowler and Mbatha are appealing actors, to be sure, but they don't have the same ethereal spark and chemistry that Murphy and Headley had before, making any rooting interest in their exploits kind of null and void.  One character that does indeed work is Snipes' uproarious turn as his hot headed general, and the actor has a hoot playing up to all of this character's narcissistic theatricality (he sure does love an entrance in the film).  He's kind of COMING 2 AMERICA's secret comedic weapon here, which is telling seeing how bereft this film is in the laugh department (which has, no doubt, an awful lot to do with his watered down and neutered PG-13 rating that never captures the first film's scatological unpredictability).  There is certainly a lot of call-back material and Easter Eggs aplenty here, and some are great (like Murphy and Hall returning to play multiple old codger roles in the Queen's residing My-T-Sharp barber shop, whose regulars are still bickering over sports and other mundane things; Hall and Murphy have not missed a beat here).  Scenes like this are like a time portal of cherished characters and places of old.   

Yet, that's the paradoxical nature of the nostalgia parade on display in COMING 2 AMERICA: I like these characters and I liked seeing them share the screen again (albeit on the small screen via Amazon Prime...thanks again, COVID!), and I liked seeing them revisit some of their old haunts from before.  Beyond that, this sequel simply feels like too much of a lazy regurgitation of what's come before (all in all, it's once again a romantic fantasy with love conquering all, but with far less likeable protagonists and with the locations being flip-flopped).  Comedy is also subjective: you'll either laugh or you won't with the material.  COMING 2 AMERICA, as already alluded to, wasn't funny enough for me and kind of proves a long standing industry truism that comedy sequels (especially with long waits between the first and second entries) rarely work with the same capricious and spontaneously fresh energy (see DUMB AND DUMBER TO).  COMING 2 AMERICA isn't an awful sequel (the cast is game and the world of Zamunda - including the eye popping and Oscar nomination worthy costumes by Ruth E. Carter - is eye gasmic), but I just didn't invest in or care about much of what was happening here.  The long awaited continuation is easily digestible and audience placating comfort food, but lacking overall in newfound taste and nourishment.   

Oh, and speaking of comfort food, by the end of the movie I was craving a "Big Mick" from McDowell's, so there's that.  

  H O M E