Wasn’t it Thomas Wolfe who said you can’t come home again?
BQB here with a review of the sequel to Eddie Murphy’s classic film.
For the uninitiated, in 1988, Eddie Murphy, the hottest act in 1980s comedy, virtually guaranteed to leave you in stitches such that you’d be grabbing your sides and shouting, “No more, no more! Bah ha ha!” proved what was then thought to be impossible – that raunchy R-rated comedies can have a heart. “Coming to America” was the story of Akeem, the young prince of the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda, whose father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) demanded his son take a bride amongst the many dutiful royal babes available.
Alas, Akeem realizes these women are lacking in personality. They just want him for his money and position and are willing to do whatever he says (one of them literally barks like a dog on his command), uninterested in challenging him or being his intellectual equal, he and his trusty man-servant Semi (Arsenio Hall) flee to Queens, New York (where else would you look for a future Queen?) in search of a soul mate.
Disguising themselves as a poor immigrants from Zamunda, Akeem and Semi take jobs at McDowell’s (a ripoff of McDonald’s though owner Cleo swears it isn’t), Akeem falls for the owner’s daughter Lisa, but faces adversity in winning her heart, i.e. his father, like Jaffe, wants his daughter to marry rich (in the form of Soul Glo jerri curl dynasty heir (Eriq LaSalle.)
Ultimately, it’s a coming of age story, similar to the struggle every young person faces. Every young adult wrestles with their dreams vs. harsh realities, the desire to go forth and chase their hopes vs. the pressure to be practical – to do what they actually want to do vs. what their parents and family demand they do. It can be hard for a young person in that they have experienced little of the world, know little of its dangers, and when parents demand they give up X dream, they often do it from a place of good i.e. maybe they tried to do something fabulous when they were young and it backfired and they want their kids to do better, but yet, the parents might know little of what is in the kid’s heart, what the kid is and isn’t capable of, what will and will not make them happy.
I saw this movie as a little kid – in the movie theater. I probably shouldn’t have, what with the jokes about the royal bathers and what have you, but the 1980s were a weird time and parents were like, “Eh. Whatever. It’s just a movie.” Thus was the sentiment that allowed me to see Robocop in the movie theater too and I swear seeing that mutant guy being run over and smashed to bits didn’t warp my young brain at all. Hmm. Maybe I need to tell my shrink about this.
Moving on. Long story short, I’ve been a comedy fan my whole life, from a young age, ever since I figured out it was possible to sneak downstairs while the ‘rents were sleeping to watch Saturday Night Live. At that young age, I knew Eddie had made something special with this movie, something the world hadn’t seen before.
Since then, I became an adult and sold out big time. Yeah, sadly, I caved to what my own personal Jaffes wanted rather than go forth and sew my oats. What can I say? I didn’t have a trusty manservant Semi to back me up I guess. It didn’t work out…or maybe it did. I do have this sweet blog that is only read by 3.5 readers after all, so that’s something.
Alright, enough stalling. Let’s get to the review.
In short, Coming 2 America is a cute stroll down memory lane, but if you were expecting a raunchy festival of frivolity equal to the original, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Watching Eddie in this movie is like watching Da Vinci paint with one arm tied behind his back. It just feels like Amazon clipped his wings and had a whole list of woke hoops that Eddie had to jump through.
Now, mind you, it did dawn on me there might be an alternative argument. At some point, we all get old. We realize we’ve done all we can do in this life and times have changed and we have to move over and let the kids take a turn. Apparently, the kids really like all this highly sanitized, run through ten focus groups to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt drek, so who are we oldsters to deny it to them? Eddie’s older Akeem faces a similar challenge in this film, having to grapple with a desire to please Jaffe’s old adherence to tradition, or to say to hell with it and bring in modern reforms as he assumes the crown.
At times the film feels like Mom and Dad pulled out their old photo albums and gathered the kids around to tell them stories of the past. The kids begrudgingly roll their eyes and sit through it. Mom and Dad have to run the story through their internal brain censors, sharing the good and hiding the bad. Mom and Dad were once naughty kids when they were young, after all, but now as adults, they need the kids to do what they say and not what they, well, once did.
The plot? Remember that girl who barked like a dog in the first film? She and her brother are all grown up now. Wesley Snipes literally steals the show and appears to have had a really fun time playing General Izzi, the brutal dictator of Zamunda’s neighboring country (literally called Nextdoria). When he isn’t busy training his adult soldiers with shake weights or his child soldiers in the finer arts of deploying C4, he is demanding that Akeem join the ruling families of Zamunda and Nextdoria in marriage. Bottomline – Akeem already thumbed his nose at the Izzi family once by turning down Iman (the dog barker) and General Izzi won’t stand for it twice. If Akeem can’t produce a male heir to marry his daughter, the general will declare war, and as Jaffee humorously warns, Akeem is too weak to fend it off. (James Earl Jones rivals Snipes in stealing the show here.)
Ah, as luck would have it, Akeem does have a male heir in the form of Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) a ticket scalper from Queens trying hard to make an honest living, but kept down by a cold world that won’t give him a break. Apparently, one night, while Akeem and Semi were in America, Akeem was drugged and taken advantage of by Leslie Jones’ Mary, thus explaining where Lavelle came from. (Apparently we still have much woke progress left to make as jokes about men getting raped by women are still considered funny. Literally nothing else is considered funny but Leslie jumping Eddie’s bones while he is an intoxicated state is supposed to be a laugh riot.)
While there is plenty of time for us to get reacquainted with older characters – Akeem, Lisa, Semi and the gang, there are large swathes of the film where it feels like Saved by the Bell: The New Class, the New, New Class, how many new classes are we up to now? There are large parts of the film where the kids take over and work out their differences, i.e. Lavelle got the short end of the stick as he spent his life begging for scraps while he had an uber rich side of the family he never knew about vs. Meeka (Kiki Layne) Akeem’s eldest daughter who trained her entire life to rule as Queen one day, only to be ousted out of nowhere by Lavelle.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. As with all sequels and reboots of old, classic films, I do wonder who is this for? Is it for today’s young adults? I don’t know but I have a hard time thinking they enjoy stuff like this. Kids today probably just smile and nod politely when adults tell them about all their favorite 1980s movies like I smiled and nodded politely when my parents tried to tell me that cowboy movies and Frank Sinatra were the shit. Is it for adults? Maybe. Part of me enjoyed the nostalgia. Part of me felt old as fuck thinking it feels like just yesterday when I was wowed by the original and now so much time has gone by that they’ve already made the highly sanitized remake. Maybe it’s for Eddie, who deserves to cash in in his old age after spending his youth making us smile, but I do feel like Eddie is like this film’s caged lion. If a studio would remove the cage, he still has enough energy left inside to roar, and leave us roaring in hysterics, but alas, studios with cajones have gone the way of the dodo.
But still, it’s cute, and has its funny moments. Hell, Amazon got me to sign up for Prime for a month just to watch it. Oh Jeff Bezos, you devious mastermind, you did it again.