Dir: Craig Brewer
Prod: Kevin Misher, Eddie Murphy
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracey Morgan
Date: March 2021
Running time: 110 minutes
The unexpected sequel to the beloved Eddie Murphy movie from 1988 was released directly to Amazon Prime. the original plans for a theatrical release in August 2020 having been scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It appears to follow the original in its rocky beginnings and conflict-led relations. Battling between the original distributors, Paramount, and the more lockdown-friendly Amazon Prime echoed the tumultuous relationship of Eddie Murphy and director, John Landis. The now seasoned veteran Murphy, was unappreciative of his director, Landis, treating him like a wet-eared rookie rather than the biggest movie star on the planet. Whatever the cause, and regardless of the harsh words said, the dynamic had its benefits as it led to one of the greatest comedy movies of the decade.
It is worth mentioning that comparatively, it was not a big-budget picture. Coming to America was, at the time, one of the least publicised Eddie Murphy movies. Strange considering the top-drawer acting and directing credentials. Also, it has to be said, it is not the greatest story. It is a basic and ancient theme, the triumph of true love over arranged matching. Still, something about it connected and it was an absolute winner. One of the most fondly recalled comedy movies of all time.
So to the sequel: What do we have?
Prince Akeem (Murphy) is close to inheriting the throne of Zamunda. His father, King Joffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is dying. The problem is that Akeem's marriage to Lisa, his bride from the original, has only produced daughters. Forthright, strong, and intelligent daughters, but bound by Zamundan law, they may not reign. It must be a male heir to inherit the throne when the new king, Akeem, eventually passes.
Enter General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) the heir to the previously unspecified nation of Nextdoria, whose offered bride was refused in the first film, in favour of Akeem's new-found love from New York. He insists on a union with one of Akeem's daughters.
This leads, thanks to a shamanic medicine man's visions, to the discovery of an illegitimate son in Queens. The son is discovered, reunited, or should we say, united, with his father, Akeem, and bought home to Zamunda to inherit the throne and save the Motherland from the clutches of the despotic dictator, General Izzi. This is the outline of our film.
The CGI overload in the opening shot is a disappointing signifier. The worry that it is going to be nothing more than a prequel dumped into another movie, with names and dates changed, and released as a sequel, is not quashed here. There is an overdose of mimicked dialogue and a clumsy insert of McDowell's label from the first movie. Both are as clunky and inorganic as the previously mentioned CGI cold shower.
The audience is reintroduced to Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) in a re-imagining of the opening of the first movie that is not nearly clever or funny enough to make it worthy of taking the "copycat" route over actually "writing a movie" route. It has to be said, it is not a promising start.
We meet Akeem's original bride-to-be, Imani, in the first funny scene so far. Along with the aforementioned General Izzi, played by Wesley Snipes. Some have praised Snipes performance. I have not. He was awful. He appeared to be chanelling Chris Tucker and Ali G and it did not do justice to a behemoth talent such as Snipes to be caricaturing and giving a derivative performance such as this.
Having seen many old 1988 faces already, it is ironic that the one who appears to have aged the least, if at all, is the soon-to-be-dead, King Joffe Joffer (James Earl Jones.) His passing is marked in a joltingly funny pre-mortem funeral where Morgan Freeman (yeah!) pays tribute. Leading up to an En Vogue and Salt 'n Pepa performance I was proud to say I predicted from his lyrical reference in the intro! The dexterity and cameo-value gave a much-needed injection of original humour to this project. Sadly, that humour is swiftly diluted and the cameos milked. By the time Gladys Knight joined in, it had gone stale.
So, after a biologically moronic and lazy exposition to explain his illegitimate offspring, we go back to Queens to meet his "bastard son" (he constantly refers to his recently discovered so this way but it is somehow funny every time.) He is a likeable downtrodden hero, introduced in a cute scene that intertwines with another Murphy vehicle...or should I say, Trades with it.
Eddie has returned to the barbershop gang of My-T-Sharp in a very funny interaction that is a bridging highlight to what is coming. Snappy dialogue and cultural, as well as chronological absurdities get played brilliantly. After Clarence and the guys swiftly point him in the right direction, he meets his heir and the lady who spawned him, Mary (Leslie Jones) who is, without doubt, the comic star of this movie.
Upon returning to Zamunda with his heir and his mother, we see the hijinks and pratfalls that will make up his journey towards becoming a prince The usual rags to riches trope that is never too tough to dress up and make watchable. The question is whether it is worthy of the mantle it possesses by virtue of its prequel.
It must be said, I was surprised by it, having expected to be disappointed. The whispers from early reviews and social media comments made it a wary endeavour but it is what the prequel was. An entertaining popcorn flick
It is not as good as the first, for various reasons. It completely fails in the third and final act would be the main one. The moment we touch down in Queens for the second time it became stale (after a clever and well-scripted take on the scene in the first movie where he steps out to hail a cab). Almost as if the writers went home and decided to continue it as a side project.
That said, the character of Mary, the heir's mother, was hilarious and an absolute stand-out, and the heir himself Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) was capable and energetic and had the air of Chadwick Boseman in his charismatic scene-owning.
A major obstacle was Eddie Murphy playing an Akeem that did not channel from the one we all love. The scene in the first movie where he asks his servant, Oha, to use the bathroom by himself, is the pose and delivery he elects to adopt for almost every scene. There was Arsenio Hall who has done next to no comic acting since 1988 and it showed with his stilted pratfall input; he was woefully uninspiring. Lisa (Shari Headly) was as irritating and overly pontificating as she was in the first with the same lack of logic in her motivation.
The story direction was weak and was obvious from the second the two characters first shared screen time. As previously mentioned, the ending was daft and nostalgic to the point of being derivative.
A great laugh in points, but none seemed to come from anyone involved in the original movie. The veterans failed and the rookies triumphed. It scraped by, more or less. Just don't make a third.