Coming 2 America
A sequel with no creative motive or purpose to exist
Eddie Murphy seems to be coming out of his semi-retirement from acting. With him we regain one of the best comedic talents in cinema, but he’s also showing his capabilities as a more complete actor after his work in films such as Dolemite is My Name (2019) and Mr. Church (2016). However, this emergence from semi-retirement has also brought about the greedy Hollywood sequels to Murphy’s old successes. There’s already an untitled Beverly Hills Cop film in the works and Coming 2 America (2021) has just hit Amazon Prime Video.
Coming 2 America is the sequel to the iconic Coming to America (1988), where Prince Akeem (Murphy) of the fictional African country of Zaimunda, went to New York to find a bride. The sequel picks up decades later as Akeem discovers he has an illegitimate son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) in New York. Lavelle is brought to Zaimunda to be integrated into the royal family, but must contend with different customs, an arranged marriage, and the scorn of the eldest daughter of Akeem, Meeka (Kiki Layne) who has been passed over as a potential ruler.
Creating sequels is hard, filmmakers must assess whether to try something new, and thus risk toying with audience’s expectations, or to deliver the same product, and give up on narrative progression. Coming 2 America seems to choose the latter option, essentially delivering the exact same story as Coming to America but set in Zaimunda with Lavelle as the protagonist. The film struggles to justify its existence and even its runtime. At various points towards the beginning of the film, the characters seem to solve their own problems incredibly fast. Thus there are forced delays and nonsensical twists ingrained in the story in order to lengthen the narrative to a feature film runtime. Such tepid attempts reek of creative sterility. Not even star-writer Kenya Barris, who co-wrote the script, can a dreg up purpose or life into the film.
Coming to America was largely successful because of its simple plot, of a “fish out of water” story, which created a space for comedic situations to sprout. Coming 2 America flies back and forth between New York and Zaimunda multiple times, wandering desperately and pointlessly, simpy hoping that the credits don’t roll yet. There are rushed romances, abandoned character arcs, and an inordinate amount of 20-minute long party scenes featuring endless cameos from celebrity actors and singers. The result is a film that appears desperate to exist, perhaps due to the cleverness of its title rather than having an actual story to tell. Director Craig Brewer has shown himself to be a much more capable director in his previous work (Hustle & Flow (2005) Dolemite Is My Name), but any sign of tonal clarity is missing in Coming 2 America, instead we have a stale and wandering execution that gives off an air of demotivated work.
In a great disappointment, Murphy and returning collaborator Arsenio Hall are largely relegated to supporting roles, bickering about the politics of Zaimunda. Jermaine Fowler is sound as the new protagonist, but he is unfairly pitted against the original performance of Murphy in the original film, and thus pales in comparison. Likewise, new additions such as Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan overact their way through the entire film, abandoning their characters and simply playing themselves. Only Layne and Wesley Snipes, who plays Akeem’s rival General Izzi, are able to bring about memorable performances. Layne by digging into a certain seriousness regarding what Zaimunda represents, and how its idea predated the onscreen Wakanda from Black Panther (2018) depicting a utopian and futuristic African country. Snipes, meanwhile, seems to understand the balance of humor that this film sets out for, making his every appearance a winning sigh of relief.
Coming 2 America does have a more acceptable attitude in terms of political correctness. Gone are the exploitative and sexist portrayals of women, the ridicule of African culture is toned down, and the outdated humor from the original has faded away. However, with it is the R-rating as well (it is rated PG-13), leading to some head-scratching alterations such as Murphy literally saying “MFing” and Morgan saying “sh” before uttering racial slurs. Why restrain your humor after you had already risked and triumphed with an R-rating in the first film?
The costuming and set design are spectacular, however, heavily inspired by the Afro-futuristic designs that are now becoming more popular (no doubt having costumer designer Ruth E. Carter from Black Panther helped). However, these aspects only give Coming 2 America a sheen of modernism and updated norms and can’t disguise a creatively moribund film with inanimate humor.
Coming 2 America is not a terrible film, but it might just be something worse: a boring one. The creative team is incapable of utilizing Murphy and his skills to enhance the narrative, leaving us with new characters we simply do not care about. The faulty humor, slothful character work, and insolent retooling of the plot make Coming 2 America a big disappointment.