Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Coming 2 America” (2021)

Having married the girl of his dreams over thirty years ago, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) lives a happy life in Zamunda with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and his three daughters, including Meeka (KiKi Layne) who is set to one day ascend to the throne, but there’s a war with a neighbouring country looming and Akeem is forced to either marry Meeka off to the son of said nation’s harsh dictator, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), or to sire a male heir to one day claim the throne of Zamunda. But Akeem soon learns that he does, in fact, have a son who currently lives in America so, along with long time friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem travels back to America with the intention of finding his son and then bringing him back so that he can claim his birthright.

I know that this is a sequel to a popular comedy film, one that comes to us thirty or so years after the original, but I have to admit that I hadn’t seen the original until I watched it for the first time only a day before I watched this sequel. So with the first film fresh in my mind (I enjoyed it, by the way), I was happy and eager to dive straight into this sequel and although I’ve heard of some pretty negative reception to this film, it having been called lazy, unfunny and unoriginal, I had a good time with it and I really enjoyed it in spite of its few minor faults, finding it to contain several affectionate callbacks to the original film as well as several amusing moments and many impressive surprise cameos.

With sequels like this, belated affairs that are released so many years after their predecessors, they’re often unwanted projects that nobody asked for, made by people who perhaps don’t understand what made the original so great and you just have to ask yourself why they couldn’t have just left well enough alone and pray for some original ideas once in a while. Well, certain sequels really are just soulless cash grabs but while I’ve heard this particular film being described as one, I honestly don’t believe that it is and although Coming 2 America is probably an unnecessary film at the end of the day, not hitting the heights of its predecessor (though that particular film wasn’t exactly gold standard, I don’t think), it is certainly not a bad film and it is filled with many affectionate references and callbacks to the original and reminds us of what we loved about that film. While watching, I had the distinct impression that director Craig Brewer (who also helmed the wonderful Dolomite is My Name), as well as the cast and crew, had great reverence for John Landis’ original film and they wholeheartedly recreate “the greatest hits” of the original, reintroducing comedic “bits” and bringing back former characters, while also attempting to bring in a modern perspective by giving the female characters more power and doing away with some of the cruder, male gaze-y stuff.

Saying that though, it isn’t all plain sailing and while it’s certainly not a bad film, it’s also not exactly the greatest comedy film that there’s been and yes, the whole endeavour is probably unnecessary and uncalled for at the end of the day. I would say that the film’s biggest flaw is the fact that, after a while, the feature reaches a point where it runs out of steam and gets a little directionless and formulaic and it also copies the plot of the original film too much, albeit with a few changes; after we’re reintroduced to the previously established characters and get to visit several locations that were used in the original film, the film seems to stall somewhat as it appears unsure of which direction it wants to take and several of the characters seem to just wait around for something to happen.

It’s also a little puzzling to see how the film recaps the events of the first film, with a couple of the characters taking a few moments to tell other characters of what went on thirty years ago, with original footage included for good measure, and this “exposition dumping” can indeed be a little off-putting and it seems as though the filmmakers thought that audiences would perhaps have forgotten about what happened previously, not having faith in the audience’s knowledge of the first film, and these recaps often slow the movie down a bit and it further proves that there aren’t too many original ideas to be found within the film.

Plus, for a film entitled Coming 2 America, very little of the film takes place in said country!

Regarding the performances, Eddie Murphy of course returns as Prince, later King, Akeem and in contrast to the overly optimistic and naive character he played previously, this Akeem is a little wiser and authoritative but has forgotten the importance of making one’s own decisions and the need to break free of traditions and customs that make no sense; Murphy puts in a good performance here, better than he is in some of the sillier comedy films he’s been known to do, but he doesn’t make as much of an impact as he did in the original and doesn’t reach the heights of Dolomite is My Name from a few years ago. As he’s become popular for, Murphy, along with Arsenio Hall, also steps back into several other smaller roles such as Queens barber Clarence and shop regular Saul (the latter being a impressive and truly chameleonic performance!) and he thankfully doesn’t go over the top here but instead treats us to a perfectly funny and silly performance that reminds us of what was so great about the first film.

We also have returning players such as Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, John Amos, Louie Anderson and James Earl Jones and they all really look like they’re having a laugh and relishing the chance to play these wacky characters once more and looking at the newcomers, we have actors like Jermaine Fowler, Tracy Morgan and KiKi Layne joining the fray and they also all look like they’re having a fine time, the latter having perhaps the most dramatic role, which Layne executes very well, but in particular, the performances of Leslie Jones and Wesley Snipes stand out the most because Jones proves herself to be the funniest performer in the film by quite a long way, nailing all of the comedic lines and playing her part with so much energy and passion, and Snipes just looks like he’s more than happy to cut loose and have a laugh, embracing all the silliness and showing that he’s clearly not taking himself too seriously.

The film also makes use of several cameos (mostly musical guests) and I have to admit that I was impressed by them since they really took me by surprise and the calibre of the guests was laudable.

Although it eventually becomes a tad directionless and formulaic, with not too much originality to be found, Coming 2 America is an entertaining and humorous film that pays great reverence to its predecessor and it benefits from having a game cast and several impressive cameo appearances.

★ ★ ★

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