Starring: Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop), Arsenio Hall (Black Dynamite), Jermaine Fowler (Superior Donuts), Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters), Tracy Morgan (30 Rock), KiKi Layne (The Old Guard), Shari Headley (The Preacher’s Wife), Wesley Snipes (Blade), James Earl Jones (The Lion King)
Director: Craig Brewer (Dolemite Is My Name)
Writers: Kenya Barris (Girls Trip) and Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield (The Nutty Professor)
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 5th March (Amazon Prime)
I have mixed feelings about the return of Eddie Murphy. On the one hand, he is clearly still a talented and hilarious actor, with his stellar comeback turn as Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name prooving he still has something to give. However, like a lot of comedians from his era, his brand of humour doesn’t so easily translate to modern sensibilities. Even Murphy himself has apologised retroactively for some of his more tasteless stand-up, and I think that change in sensitivity may be partly why he backed away from Hollywood for nearly a decade after a long string of flops. Now with the goodwill he’s regained from Dolemite, Murphy seems confident to make a true triumphant return by making a follow-up to one of his beloved classics. Coming 2 America is very self-aware of the stigma surrounding comedy sequels, and if there was ever a good time to make a second Coming to America, now is better than any before. Unfortunately, the final product is ultimately stale, formulaic, and old-fashioned in the worst way; far from the royal homecoming Murphy clearly wanted or what his fans deserved.
Coming 2 America immediately stumbles within the first ten minutes, spending the rest of its runtime trying to recover from a massive error in judgement that epitomises the film’s greatest weakness. This may be stepping into spoiler territory, but this needs to be made clear up front: the plot begins when Prince Akeem (Murphy) learns he sired an illegitimate son off-screen during the events of the first film, after unknowingly having sex with Mary (Leslie Jones) because he was so high that he thought she was just a boar he hallucinated. Let me just rephrase that to make it clear: THE STORY BEGINS WITH EDDIE MURPHY REALIZING HE WAS RAPED, AND IT IS PLAYED FOR LAUGHS. From that moment on, there is absolutely no way Coming 2 America can recover from such a bad taste moment. Whilst the film never stoops so low again, this poor attempt to meld 80s comedy sensibilities with modern taste runs through the rest of the production and it constantly falls flat. Like so many comedy sequels, most of the jokes are just the recycled remains of the best jokes from the first movie, with pretty much every notable character from that film returning whether they have good reason to or not.
On the other end, Coming 2 America’s attempts at being contemporary and progressive fall just as flat. The story’s vague stab at female empowerment with KiKi Layne’s subplot is typical and underdeveloped, and the rest are just a bunch of tired jokes about Black Panther, being “on fleek”, Lyft drivers and, of course, mild transphobia. The only promising new conceit is Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his reticence to accept royal privilege when he’d rather build a life for himself. It’s an interesting avenue that truly feels like a contemporary reflection on both its predecessor and present-day class disparity, but much like everything with promise in the film, it abandons it in favour of just rehashing the “I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins” plot from the first film. With all that said, what’s most baffling about Coming 2 America is how seriously it otherwise takes itself. The story often treats itself as if its part of some great saga and goes for a far more sentimental vibe, which perhaps is fitting in a generational story of passing the torch, but it’s nigh impossible to be emotionally invested when those same scenes often feature Murphy dressed up in caricatured make-up talking in a silly voice and making sexist remarks.
The film only ends up being vaguely watchable because the cast’s talent and charisma manages to wade through the bad material and stay afloat to the end. Though not quite the same man he used to be, Eddie Murphy is certainly trying his best and manages to pull out several laughs and even a few moments of sincerity. He’s clearly not sleepwalking through the film, but there’s certainly a sense that he’s often fighting against an urge to go full Raw. Arsenio Hall, meanwhile, is given very little to work with and often flat-out disappears for good chunks of the film. Despite receiving second-billing and being just as much a star of the first film as Murphy, Hall lacks much if any narrative purpose after the first act other than to butt heads with Tracy Morgan. Shari Headley, returning as Akeem’s bride Lisa, gives a spirited performance with her limited material and once again holds her own against Murphy, whilst James Earl Jones makes a brief but dignified return as King Jaffe.
In terms of new faces, Jermaine Fowler easily comes out of the film the strongest as Akeem’s son Lavelle. He manages to embody Murphy’s mannerisms without directly copying him, and he has a rebellious attitude and grounded perspective that make him a much more relatable character than anyone else in the film; it’s a shame the plot doesn’t let him properly explore that. Leslie Jones does what Leslie Jones does best and steals every scene she is in, which is almost enough to redeem her character after being a key player in the story’s horrendous inciting incident. KiKi Layne is mostly wasted as Akeem’s eldest daughter Meeka, whilst Wesley Snipes hams it up as the treacherous General Izzi in yet another surprisingly accomplished comedic performance. Much of the rest of the cast is chock full of celebrity cameos, many of which playing themselves, but after an early scene where they blow half of them in the space of a few minutes, those surprises quickly feel fleeting.
Though it recycles a lot of humour and what’s new rarely raises a chuckle, I can’t call Coming 2 America a lazy or unnecessary sequel, but it is a fundamentally misguided one. Like a casually bigoted but otherwise kind old man trying to better himself around his son’s foreign wife and his queer granddaughter, it is a film that clearly wants to get with the times but whose old habits die hard. A sequel to Coming to America could have been more than just a repeat of past glories. It could have been a genuine exploration of changing times, an honest reflection on how “traditions” often come hand-in-hand with marginalisation, and tackled how attitudes towards race, class and gender (and, subtextually, comedy) have changed. Instead, Coming 2 America just wants to tell the same problematic jokes in an inappropriate context, then claim its progressive by making gentrification jokes and saying, “Hey…what about a woman leader?” I had such high hopes this might have been one of those exceptions to the comedy sequel rule, but you can go ahead and toss this in the same pile as Zoolander 2. The great nation of Zamunda deserved better than this.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/10