By Alex McPherson
“Coming 2 America” is an enjoyable sequel that fails to match the charm and creativity of the 1988 original.
In the fictional country of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) lives comfortably with his wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), and their three daughters, one of whom (played by KiKi Layne) is more than worthy to assume leadership. Per Zamundan law, none of the Joffers’ daughters can become heirs to the throne, which creates a dilemma when Akeem’s father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), falls deathly ill.
In a morally troubling revelation, a prophet reveals that Akeem actually has a male child… in America! Turns out, during his quest for romance all those years ago, Akeem was drugged and taken advantage of by Mary Junson (Leslie Jones), who later gave birth to their son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Upon learning this, Akeem travels with his pal, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to find Lavelle and bring him to Zamunda to become a prince. Meanwhile, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the vicious leader of neighboring country called Nextdooria, shows up as a threat to Akeem and Zamunda generally.
Director Craig Brewer provides a heartwarming, irreverent trip down memory lane with moments of brilliance here and there, along with a strong sense of déjà vu. Even so, “Coming 2 America” still proves amusing from start to finish, largely thanks to the cast of returning faces.
When the film makes direct callbacks to the previous installment, it succeeds in spades. The dynamic between Akeem and Semmi is as watchable as ever, although they aren’t exactly the protagonists anymore. It’s a pleasure spending time in the iconic barbershop once again as well, with multiple people played by both Murphy and Hall simultaneously. Additionally, flamboyant dance sequences make a welcome return, although I wish their out-there style had extended to other departments. Indeed, overlooking its nostalgic appeal, there’s a disappointing lack of inspiration in “Coming 2 America,” which resorts to predictable, shallow storytelling throughout.
Akeem, portrayed by Murphy in top form, remains likable, but comes across as more irritating than endearing this time around. Akeem is stubbornly resistant to cultural change in Zamunda — eager to make Lavelle a Prince whether or not Lavelle wants to. Before too long, though, he is sidelined, and Lavelle takes center stage until the film’s clunky final act.
In trying to tell a different kind of fish-out-of-water story, most of “Coming 2 America” revolves around Lavelle’s experiences in Zamunda. Perhaps the film should have been titled “Coming 2 Zamunda?” The initial thrill of his new lifestyle is replaced with feelings of discomfort and entrapment. Unfortunately, Lavelle displays little of Akeem’s personality or charisma. A street-savvy millennial, he finds pleasure in embracing the royal lifestyle of Zamunda, but lacks depth and intelligence — spouting numerous pop-culture-heavy jokes that only land about half of the time.
There are, admittedly, some funny sequences involving Lavelle’s princely trials, such as a challenge involving a neighborhood lion. Most of his screen time later on, though, is devoted to a sappy romance with his hairdresser, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), which provides few surprises and recycles a central theme from the first film.
The rest of the new arrivals are solid enough, but they aren’t fleshed out in any meaningful way. Jones deploys her usual brand of in-your-face raunch as Lavelle’s mother, and Tracy Morgan does what he can with an underutilized role as Lavelle’s Uncle Reem. Snipes gives a scene-stealing turn as General Izzi, an exuberant performance that fits in perfectly with the wacky characters from “Coming to America.” There are also a couple of celebrity cameos that I won’t spoil here.
Despite its missed opportunity to tell a more memorable story and stand out from its predecessor, “Coming 2 America” should entertain fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. For all my criticisms, I nevertheless had a smile on my face by the end credits.
“Coming 2 America” is a comedy sequel directed by Craig Brewer and starring Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Shari Headley, James Earl Jones, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan. It is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and drug content. and its runtime is 1 hour, 50 minutes. Alex’s Grade: B. The movie is available on Amazon Prime beginning March 5.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat daily newspaper. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association.