VOD film review: Coming 2 America
Mark Harrison | On 07, Mar 2021
Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Kiki Layne, Wesley Snipes
Prince Akeem of Zamunda once said that “the times do and must always change”. Arriving 30 years after Coming to America, Coming 2 America is unquestionably a sequel in which the more things change, the more the jokes stay the same. Whether it’s a worthwhile successor, let alone a worthy one, is up for debate, but its cheerful nostalgia makes it funnier than most belated comedy sequels have any right to be.
Playing the legacy-quel card quite literally, Coming 2 America takes place more than three decades after Prince Akeem (Murphy) chose true love over an arranged marriage. Although Akeem has three strong daughters (played by KiKi Layne, Bella Murphy, and Akiley Love), his venerable father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones), warns that the Zamundan constitution does not permit a female heir, and a hitherto-forgotten illegitimate son would be preferable.
With eccentric strongman General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) stirring civil unrest in the neighbouring nation of Nextdoria, Akeem and his long-serving valet, Semmi (Hall), go back to Queens, New York, reminiscing about various scenes from their first trip along the way. There they find Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), a ticket scalper born from a long forgotten one-night-stand between Akeem and his mother, Mary (Leslie Jones). And so the pair take Lavelle and his family back to Zamunda to see if they can make a prince of him.
For a film that’s essentially a return ticket, the plot contrivance is a hurdle for this sequel to overcome right out of the gate. If the original can be likened to a Disney fairytale romance transplanted into a grown-up comedy then, on paper, this looks more like one of those direct-to-video sequels where the Little Mermaid’s kid pines for the sea and the same story unfolds in reverse.
But once the film is over that hurdle, the story that we get makes a crowd-pleasing mix of comic callbacks (both in-story and during the end-credit bloopers and bonus scenes) and a few more conscientious additions too. Like Dolemite Is My Name – director Craig Brewer’s previous collaboration with Murphy – the film is generous to its whole ensemble, granting James Earl Jones, John Amos, and Shari Headley their moments even while juggling various new characters. That means we get less of Murphy and Hall as Akeem and Semmi, but still have plenty of them disguised as their various characters from last time.
The other thing that the film has in common with Dolemite Is My Name is a show-stealing performance from Wesley Snipes. Nominally the villain of the piece, General Izzi is the funniest of the new arrivals so far, nailing everything from the comedy to the choreography. Leslie Jones puts in a strong showing too, usually to be found holding her own in the centre of the weird Venn diagram of “jokes that haven’t aged well from the first one” and “problematic gags that are unique to this one”.
Happily, the perfect balance of the ensemble manages to distract from quite an unbalanced plot. Having an American in Zamunda be the fish out of water this time around shows the shortcomings of the script (by original writers Barry W Blaustein and David Sheffield, with Girls’ Trip co-writer Kenya Barris) but also grants the film some fantastical visual scale and grandeur in a post-Black Panther update of its fictional African nation.
The key distinction between the two films is that the original was a trailblazer, with its all-African-American cast and memorable characters, whereas the sequel is very much designed as a commemorative or celebratory work. It doesn’t even imagine that Zamunda’s traditions would have altered much since the 1980s, which casts a poor light on the original film’s happily-ever-after and on Akeem as a character. Your mileage may vary on this but, in the end, the film is just about funny and entertaining enough to be worth the nostalgia trip.
Bringing back as many of the original cast and characters as logically possible – plus even a couple of others beyond that – Coming 2 America is nothing if not an authentic update, complete with all-new dodgy moments of its own, especially regarding the matter of Lavelle’s conception. Happily, it mostly transports the essential good nature and sincerity of the original over wholesale as well, and while it won’t be as long-lived or rewatchable as the film that inspired it, Coming 2 America is a welcome catch-up for fans.