Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are back as Prince Akeem and Semmi in, the long-awaited sequel to the 1988 comedy classic Coming to America. It’s been 33 years since we caught up with our favorite Zamundans, and in some ways a lot has changed. In other ways, so much remains the same.
The setup for the sequel, streaming now on Amazon Prime, is pretty straightforward. Akeem discovers he has an illegitimate son in the US. He and Semmi return to New York City to find his child and prepare him to become heir to the Zamunda throne. To complicate matters, Akeem has three daughters with his wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), any of whom would make an excellent ruler of Zamunda were it not for a law preventing women from taking the throne.
The largely successful sequel takes the Star Wars: The Force Awakens approach, following a similar formula as the first film while reuniting us with some of our favorite characters. But instead of the fish-out-of-water story being about a 21-year-old Prince Akeem searching for love in Queens, it’s about Akeem’s illegitimate son, Lavelle Junson (played charmingly by Jermaine Fowler), and his mom (Leslie Jones, in an absolute tour-de-force comic performance) in Zamunda.
The first movie was far from perfect, but it worked extremely well as a comedy, and still does to this day. I miss seeing Murphy’s wide-eyed and naive Akeem navigating the streets of Queens. He was the heart of the first film and kept it all grounded. But some of that heart is missing from the sequel. Scenes feel more like elaborate sketch comedy pieces and don’t organically help the story or raise the stakes. There are also a couple of minor storylines that seem to get lost or magically resolved.
Craig Brewer directed Coming 2 America after working with Murphy on the wonderful 2019 film Dolemite Is My Name, about 1970s comic Rudy Ray Moore and his raunchy alter-ego Dolemite. In Dolemite, Brewer found the balance between featuring Murphy’s outstanding performance and keeping the story moving forward. In Coming 2 America you can see that Brewer takes care to feature the actors’ performances, but sometimes it’s at the expense of the story. That may be the script, or the fact that this film features a small army of characters.
But I don’t expect Coming 2 America to have a flawless story. I expect it to be funny, and it absolutely is. If you laughed at the original, you’ll definitely laugh at this one. A lot of the laughs come from the small side characters played by Murphy and Hall. But joining them to make you laugh are Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, Tracy Morgan as Uncle Reem and Jones as Mary Junson. Also, more Uncle Reem and Semmi scenes please!
The film takes place both in Zamunda and Queens, and of course a visit back to New York means we get to see Clarence, Saul and Morris at the barbershop. These scenes where Murphy and Hall play multiple characters under tons of makeup are a master class in comedy that are just as funny and ridiculous today as they were in the original.
It’s this kind of rich fan service that’ll make Coming to America fans happy. Smartly, every character you could hope to see shows up in the sequel. And to make the plot work, there’s a hilarious retcon scene that takes place during the 1988 film where Jones “seduces” a 21-year-old Prince Akeem with a “ceremonial cigarette,” her nether regions and a pumpkin candle. It kills.
The elaborate and ridiculous Zamunda rituals from the first film are here, too. Early on in the film, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) has a “celebration” for himself. Not only is there a wide shot of crowds of beautifully dressed dancers, but a major ’90s R&B group shows up and starts performing, and then is joined by another major ’90s R&B group. It only gets more ridiculous from there. In fact, there are so many cameos from huge celebrities, musicians and sports figures in the film, that if you wanted, you could honestly call the film Cameo 2 America.
Coming 2 America, along with last year’s Bill and Ted Face The Music, are proof you can take a beloved film and make a sequel decades later that honors it and lets you go back to that world for a couple of hours. I’ve already watched Coming 2 America twice and look forward to watching it a third time on Friday when it’s available on Amazon Prime video.
Here are answers to a few questions you might have about Coming 2 America.
Can I watch Coming 2 America without seeing the original?
Yes, but why would you? Take a moment and watch Coming to America before seeing Coming 2 America.
The original one had an R rating and this one is PG-13. What gives?
The original R-rated Coming to America was dirty and raunchy, but by today’s standards it’s not as in your face as it was 33 years ago. Coming 2 America has less nudity and less “f words” than the first. The new film finds plenty of dirty humor (for instance, Hall’s character in a circumcision scene) but balances it with silly bits of comedy.
Is there a post-credits scene in Coming 2 America?
We associate post-credit scenes mostly with superhero movies. But Coming 2 America, has credit scenes. It’s worth watching the beginning and middle credits for outtakes and staying to the very end: a wonderful gem awaits.
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