Like “Zoolander 2,” “Blues Brother 2000” and “Independence Day: Resurgence” before it, “Coming 2 America” revisits a classic movie with a failed sequel that took way too long to come out.
Eddie Murphy rediscovered some of his old magic with director Craig Brewer with Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name” in 2019, but their teaming on “Coming 2 America” (★★ out of four; rated PG-13; streaming on Amazon Prime Friday) is a much more disappointing outing. While the excellent 1988 original still holds up as both raucous romantic comedy and Black fairy tale – as well as a multifaceted showcase for Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall – the follow-up is a toothless, fleetingly funny revisit with some moments of greatness yet too much of the same old story to feel fresh.
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It’s been 30 years since Prince Akeem (Murphy) traveled from the fictional African nation of Zamunda to Queens, New York, with his loyal sidekick Semmi (Hall) to avoid an arranged marriage and find Akeem’s own beloved queen, Lisa (Shari Headley). In the sequel, Akeem follows his father (James Earl Jones) as the king of the land but doesn’t have a male heir himself – and according to Zamundan law, none of his three daughters can take the crown when it’s time.
A bigger problem is the longtime neighboring land of Nexdoria and their eccentric leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) – part dictator, part drum major, all crazy – who has an old score to settle and threatens war with his Shake Weight-trained army.
A family truth-bomb drops, courtesy of a weird old shaman (Hall in a lot of makeup): It turns out that Akeem, in a drug-and-alcohol haze, had sex with a New Yorker (Leslie Jones) back in the day and he actually does have a first-born son. Akeem and Semmi return to Queens and meet Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), a guy lacking a career trajectory. Akeem brings Lavelle and his mom to Zamunda – without anyone thinking of a DNA test – to begin prince training. The young man is to be wedded to Izzi’s daughter (Teyana Taylor) as a peacekeeping ploy, though Lavelle instead falls for his new royal barber Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).
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Amid all the fresh faces (including Tracy Morgan as Lavelle’s Uncle Reem, plus a load of cameos) and returning characters (John Amos and Louie Anderson now head up the Zamundan locale of their McDonald’s ripoff, McDowell’s), the most interesting personalities who get short-shifted are Akeem’s daughters, warrior Meeka (KiKi Layne), brainy Omma (Murphy’s real-life daughter Bella) and spunky Tinashe (Akiley Love). “Coming 2 America” easily could have been a really neat father-daughter tale – and one celebrating young Black women – yet filmmakers instead chose the rehashed route already traveled. (At least all the Zamundans look great, thanks to Oscar-winning “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth E. Carter.)
The sequel is rife with specific callbacks and shoutouts to the 1988 film – there are even scenes from the original movie played during the new one, maybe for those folks who haven’t been able to see it in the past 33 years? There’s also an edge to the R-rated first film sorely missing from the more family-friendly sequel. It is nice to see old favorites back, though, like Murphy and Hall’s My-T-Sharp barbershop crew (who are more politically incorrect than ever) and the return of soul-tastic band Sexual Chocolate, once again fronted by Murphy’s infamously cheesy Randy Watson.
The one Murphy character that unfortunately doesn’t come back is Prince Akeem. He was once a very modern, forward-thinking, goodhearted dude and the older figure we meet again has turned into his very traditional father. Akeem’s arc in the new film is to come back around to who he really is, which is good for drama but seems to be moving everything backward.
And instead of spending time digging into the in and outs of his character – an aspect of “Coming to America” that should have been carried over – the new movie’s more intent on shoehorning in other colorful personalities. Sure, it might be a bigger follow-up in different ways, however, it’s one that falls well short of being better.