Fans of the original 1988 "Coming To America" film will understand the following reference: "Coming 2 America" is to "Coming to America" what MacDowells is to McDonalds.
Is it inspired by the original or is it a remixed knock-off?
Only time will tell what fans think of the long-awaited return of now King Akeem (Eddie Murphy), his lap-dog Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and the cast of characters big and small that return for "Coming 2 America."
But even as this film was an underwhelming disappointment when compared to the original, I guess it's fair to ask: Exactly what did I expect?
It's been over 30 years since then Prince Akeem traveled to Queens, NY against the wishes of his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) and his mother, Queen Aoleon (the late Madge Sinclair, who other than "Soul Glow" heir Eriq La Salle, is one of the very few stars of the first film to not appear in the sequel). Prince Akeem fell in love with Lisa (Shari Headley), who at the end of "Coming to America," moves back to Akeem's homeland of Zamunda for a royal wedding, opting to live a life of luxury, a life that Akeem would have immediately abandoned at her behest.
The absolute love-letter and joyous reunion that is "Coming 2 America" begins almost immediately upon the opening credits. Lisa's father, Cleo (John Amos) has opened a Zamundan location of his knock-off fast food franchise, "MacDowells," as he continues to insist that his restaurant has nothing to do with that "other place" (The McFlurby is nothing like the McFlurry for example...he puts his toppings on the bottom!). Even schlub employee Maurice (Louie Anderson) is still hanging around, for no apparent reason other than to say he appeared in the sequel.
Those aren't the only familiar faces. In fact, it's both impressive and exhausting just how many returning characters pop in from the original film. I won't spoil them all.
The story this time around is that King Jaffe, on his death bed, reveals to Akeem that he has a son back in Queens (the explanation of which, is actually quite funny). Prior to this knowledge, none of Akeem's three daughters with Lisa could properly rule Zamunda, since their arcane laws prohibit women from taking control of the throne. Akeem is pressured this time around by a new character, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), whose family and country was robbed of their chance to unite with the powerful Zamunda back when Akeem refused to marry Izzi's sister (you may remember the woman who Akeem got to hop on one foot and bark like a dog...Vanessa Bell Calloway reprises her role, and we learn that not much has changed).
So as it goes, either Akeem finds his long-lost son, or General Izzi will look to usurp power. And if you are looking for a sign as to how much effort went in to this script, look no further than the name of Izzi's neighboring country, literally called NextDooria.
This plot sends Akeem and Semmi back to NYC, where they locate his biological son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), a small-time grifter still living with his mom, Mary (Leslie Jones) and his Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan). Morgan and Jones are never not funny, and they're a welcome addition to the nonsense, while Fowler holds his own and even on occasion looks to channel Eddie Murphy's mannerisms and speech-pattern. While in NYC, we revisit maybe the most beloved characters of the series, the "barber shop quartet" of old men, three of whom are played by Murphy and Hall (along with Clint Smith).
But the time spent in America is scarce this go-around. Much of the film takes place in the fictional Zamunda, inside the palace walls where Akeem finds himself slowly becoming his father, and where Lavelle falls for his groomer, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), also feeling the need to resist his chosen destiny, much like his father before him.
Did this movie need musical numbers, featuring strange cameos from celebrities who change their lyrics to fit the sequel's story? No, but we get them. Did we need to see nearly EVERY minor character from the original film? Nope. I mean, paying homage to the original is nice, but a passing reference to an elephant named Babar in the original film would even have hardcore fans reaching to remember...that is, if the new film didn't include actual scenes from the original movie sporadically placed to spoon-feed these connections for us.
What we're left with is a movie that is funny at times, and there is a certain entertainment value to revisiting characters from the past...heck, that seems to be the model for most streaming TV shows and movies of the past decade. But did we really need a "Coming 2 America"? After watching it, I would have been OK without it.
After all, it's basically "Coming to America," just with the toppings on the bottom.
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Shari Headley, James Earl Jones, Wesley Snipes, Arsenio Hall, KiKi Layne, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Fowler.
Directed by Craig Brewer ("Dolemite Is My Name," "Footloose (2011)," "Hustle & Flow").
"Coming 2 America" is available on Amazon Prime on Friday, March 5th, 2021.
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