Thirty years ago, Coming to America was something of a victory lap for Eddie Murphy. He was one of the biggest movie stars and standup comics in the world at that point in time. While ambition came with the elaborate uses of makeup, he was in a comfort zone, surrounded by great talent. Coming 2 America feels like an attempt to recreate that vibe. While not as prolific as he once was, Murphy seems energized enough, following his work on Dolemite Is My Name, to go back to a certain kind of space where he can just have fun. This expansive sequel doesn’t always work because of how much is crammed into this deeper exploration of the Zumandan kingdom, but it gets by on charm and commitment from all involved.
Picking up in the African nation of Zamunda, we now find Murphy’s Prince Akeem about to ascend to the throne as king once his father (James Earl Jones) is ready to pass on. However, despite the presence of his three daughters, including the well-studied Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne), Akeem is facing pressure from General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) of Zamunda’s neighboring nation in regards to his lack of a male heir. However, things take a major swerve with the reveal of a lost night before Akeem met his Queen, Lisa (Shari Headley), where he did, indeed, sire a son. This leads Akeem and his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) back to America to find this estranged young man, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), to bring him to Zamunda where he can learn to be a prince.
Depending on your fandom level over the original comedy hit, it will range from apparent to obnoxious as far as how many references there are to the first film in the early goings of this sequel. Director Craig Brewer, a superfan of Murphy and his films, doesn’t hide the joy he has for it and stuffs as much as he can in this film to prove it. Fortunately, once the film gets a chance to widen out a bit, the comedy starts to emerge at a smoother pace. The narrative still suffers, however, which is largely due to the number of characters at play.
Understandably, Murphy had a previous film full of colorful characters, let alone the romance angle, meaning there’s a desire to check in with everyone. At the same time, Coming 2 America introduces three new daughters, Snipes’ ready-for-action General, the estranged son Lavelle, and his family, which includes his mother, played by Leslie Jones, and his uncle, played by Tracy Morgan. There’s also Lavelle’s romance plotline, featuring the General’s daughter (Teyana Taylor) and a royal groomer (Nomzamo Mbatha). So yes, that’s a lot to keep track of, and while the film is thankfully under two hours, there’s still not nearly enough breathing room to make all of this work.
Of course, many coming to Coming 2 America may be more interested in the series of comic antics in store for him, even if things are strung together in overcomplicated/undercooked ways. In that regard, there is a sense that Murphy and the crew really wanted to hold onto a sense of humor befitting a zany 80s comedy. The humor is often big and broad, yet there is an attempt to contextualize it around 2021. That’s welcome, but do not expect a high level of depth in Akeem once again finding his way and learning how to improve Zamunda in terms of gender roles and other traditions that can be modernized.
With that in mind, there is enough to appreciate in the stacked deck of comedic talent this film has lined up, in addition to black talent in general. It’s as if Murphy decided it was best to deliver a bridge to Black Panther 2 by way of piling in plenty of other black actors in a largely African-set film to tide things over until audiences can return to Wakanda. Regardless, the new players have their share of fun, particularly Jones and Morgan. Snipes continues to prove how underused he has been in recent years, despite having remained a phenomenal talent. And, yes, Murphy and Hall get plenty of chances to play, thanks to the continued used of elaborate makeup designs to house them inside a variety of characters. It’s ridiculous, and even if the film has to stretch to incorporate them, it brought a smile to my face.
I also have plenty of respect for the way black excellence continues to radiate all over the screen. The first film was not only a great place for black talent. It was a chance to show off many confident, successful, and royal black faces dealing with a familiar plot generally delivered by what Hollywood feels fit to put out over and over. Coming 2 America has little to prove in that regard, but it goes for extravagance anyway, with some spectacular costume design from Oscar-winner Ruth Carter. The various royal garments give this film interesting ways to build off the characters and a wide array of colors to constantly work with, which shines just as brightly as the many happy faces seen throughout.
That’s really what Coming 2 America amounts to – happy individuals getting a chance to just play around in a silly Eddie Murphy project. Yes, bits and callback lines are forced at times. Still, the spirited nature of everything keeps the proceedings relatively harmless as a feature film ready to be streamed on Prime Video by both newcomers and those who have watched the original over and over on TV. Sure, I wish Eddie Murphy would do more ambitious work and find more ways to step out of his comfort zone. However, if Dolemite helped bring him out of his shell and this gave him a chance to warm his comedy muscles up, I’m happy enough to welcome this return of the king, knowing his royal glow would only extend so far before hopefully expanding his reign once more.