Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, with Wesley Snipes and James Earl Jones
Director: Craig Brewer
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
The long-awaited sequel to 1988's Coming To America inevitably rides on dollops of nostalgia. Working with the original cast and some big-name additions, the film evokes memories of a time long gone and yet holds on to the gung-ho, fairy-tale spirit of yore that propelled Eddie Murphy, at the height of his prowess and popularity, to produce and star in a comedy with an all-black ensemble that achieved box-office success and instant cult status.
Coming 2 America, directed by Craig Brewer (Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddoe Murphy), has premiered on Amazon Prime Video. It has the comforting feel of an old familiar fleece blanket that has frayed at the edges but nonetheless retains the power to generate warmth. That is exactly what one feels while watching Murphy, as the newly anointed King Akeem of Zamunda, reunite with Arsenio Hall in the guise of his trusted confidant Semmi. The two actors, as they did with phenomenal panache in Coming To America, play four roles each and yet leave you asking for more.
The shrill My-T-Sharp barbershop guys - two of them played by Murphy himself and one by Hall - have a go at everyone, and everything, that moves around them. Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali have been replaced by Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor in their banter, but the cantankerous crew have lost none of their zing.
Also back are James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer, Shari Headley as the girl from the borough of Queens who is now Queen of Zamunda, John Amos as her father Cleo McDowell, Louie Anderson as Maurice and Paul Bates as the royal master of ceremonies Oha. None of these supporting characters has as much to do in Coming 2 America as they did all those years ago.
The focus this time around is more on Jermaine Fowler, KiKi Layne, Nomzamo Mbatha, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and Wesley Snipes (in the role of the bellicose General Izzi, the ruler of Nexdoria, the threatening nation 'next door'). They do not let the film down. Especially impressive is Layne. She definitely deserved more footage than she gets.
The soundtrack is laced with peppy numbers. Several singer-songwriters (Gladys Knight, John Legend, Davido) put in appearances to spice up the proceedings. Teyana Taylor not only croons, she also plays General Izzi's dutiful daughter. Despite the attention-grabbing cameos, including one by Morgan Freeman as himself, it feels that the spontaneous fun quotient of the original has been dialled down a few notches. The follow-up trades the casual and edgy air that informed the 1988 film for caution necessitated by the times that we live in.
Coming To America 2 is mindful not to be offensive to women. Coming To America was frequently gender insensitive, quite brazenly so. Hollywood's MeToo movement was several decades away and the makers weren't in danger of stepping on toes.
Times have changed both in the real world and in the imagined universe of the film. Not that patriarchy does not hold sway over the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda anymore. The new King, who as a Prince had jetted off to New York to find a bride for himself against the wishes of his father, has not been able to do away with tradition. Women still cannot own businesses here and a girl, no matter how deserving she is, does not have a right to the throne of the kingdom.
The first film had opened on Prince Akeem's 21st birthday and had gone on to show us the pomp and pampering that surrounded every step that the heir to the Zamunda throne took, what with rose bearers throwing petals at his feet as he walked and girls in the buff bathing him. The attendants are still at hand but they aren't objectified the way they once were.
In Coming 2 America, when the curtains go up, it is the morning of Akeem and Lisa's (Shari Headley) 30th wedding anniversary. The royal couple has three daughters and King Jaffe Joffer is worried stiff about the absence of a male heir. To make matters worse, the danger of war looms over the nation as General Izzi, whose sister Prince Akeem had unceremoniously spurned in the earlier film, reveals his evil designs on prosperous Zamunda.
Turns out that Prince Akeem has an illegitimate son in Queens. So off he goes with Semmi to bring the boy, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), back to Zamunda to be groomed for future royal duties. The young man's uncle, Reem (Tracy Morgan), is skeptical at first. "Zamunda, Wakanda, Connecticut... I don't know where you are from," he says to Akeem dismissively. Lavelle agrees to give being a prince a shot but refuses to travel without his mother Mary (Leslie Jones). So, mom and son board the royal jet to Zamunda.
Once there, Lavelle has to pass a 'princely test' designed to instil culture, critical thinking and courage in him. Among other things, it requires him to stare down a lion. His half-sister, Princess Meeka (Kiki Layne), a fierce warrior herself, has reason to be peeved at the turn of events, as is her mother who cannot fathom why her eldest daughter cannot be the ruler of the land.
It isn't a cakewalk for Lavelle Junson either. He has to acquiesce to General Izzi's ultimatum to marry his daughter. He falls in love with the royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), who aspires to open a barbershop. They bond over the movies. Mirembe asks: Have you seen Zamundan movies? They are "total baboon dung", she says, adding that "American movies are the best". Lavelle does a double take. That's blasphemous, he says. "What do we have besides superhero shit, remakes and sequels of old movies nobody asked for."
Even as the lovers agree to disagree, complications ensue and history threatens to repeat itself. With General Izzi snapping at his heels and threatening Zamunda with dire consequences, King Akeem is once again forced to go for broke.
Coming 2 America does pretty much the same and, for the most part, comes up trumps. It is yesterday once more with all the awareness of today thrown into the mix for good measure. Enjoyable fare. It is definitely more than just a sequel of an old movie "nobody asked for".