Movie Review: Coming 2 America

Spoiler Warning: This review contains some of the movie’s plot points.

When the original Coming to America was released 33(!!) years ago, it was an instant hit. Fuelled by Eddie Murphy’s star turn as Prince Akeem of the fictional Zamunda, it was a genuinely funny story of love and agency that resonated with audiences worldwide. The movie remains imminently re-watchable to this day, even though some scenes have aged pretty poorly.

Coming 2 America though, suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. For all the good the movie does, it seems to constantly be trying to justify why it even exists. The original film’s story resolved it’s plot quite satisfyingly and as such the sequel has to spend quite a bit of time retconning one of the best scenes of the original to shoehorn in Leslie Jones’ character and the ensuing, at times troubling (Prince Akeem is seemingly drugged and sexually assaulted by Jones’ character) events that lead to the bastard son plot-line that attempts to drive this film.

When the film isn’t trying to justify its reason for existence, it does function well enough as a nostalgic revisit of some of the best moments from it’s predecessor as well as introducing some brilliant new characters. Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi of the neighbouring nation Nextdoria is by far my favourite new addition. Snipes has an infectious energy and he is clearly thoroughly enjoying himself in this role, hamming it up to the nth degree. Eddie Murphy is good in this film, but the endearing, wide-eyed enthusiasm he had in the original seems a little dimmed here. Arsenio Hall and Shari Headley reprise their roles as Semmi and Queen Lisa well enough, with Headley in particular showcasing both her emotional range and comedic chops.

The absolute best thing this movie has going for it is it’s costume design. Ruth E. Carter (who’s already won an Oscar for her stunning work on Black Panther) delivers some exquisite pieces of clothing for this film. Every character is decked out in gorgeous outfits, giving the film a very polished feel. The music is quite good as well, even if the pacing of the movie does grind to a halt whenever a big musical number does come on. Pacing issues rear their head again as the visit to America to retrieve Prince Akeem’s bastard son takes all of 10 minutes of screen time and the burial ceremony for James Earl Jones’ King Jaffe Joffer, while quite grand and colorful, takes up a large portion of the first act. This leads to multiple story threads being rushed and resolved all too quickly causing the romance between bastard son Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) and his hair trimmer turned lover Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) to feel a little forced.

The comedy in this movie does land quite a bit, with my theatre laughing quite frequently at the jokes. Wesley Snipes definitely got my biggest laughs, but some callback jokes to the original film do land as well. The film takes perfunctory steps towards making a few feminist statements, but never takes a firm stand on any side of the issue. The film purports to be all about the ladies, but they’re repeatedly playing second fiddle and supporting the male characters.

All in all, “Coming 2 America” is like attending your high school reunion: You’ll enjoy seeing the familiar faces of those with whom you once shared such fond experiences, but then you’ll realize that the nostalgia of that past is far more fulfilling than the harsher realities of the present.

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