How much should nostalgia play into whether or not a film is effective? Of course, a movie should stand on its own, but a long-gestating sequel to a beloved comedy classic obviously needs to recall its prior installment. With Coming 2 America, following up Coming to America was always going to be a tall order. So, it was a matter of figuring out how much to go in similar directions and how far the filmmakers should go in new ones. At the end of the day, what we have here is a mixed bag. As a bit of light entertainment, spent with familiar characters, it works. When compared to the first one, it definitely falls short. In the end, it comes down to whether you want to spend more time with these Eddie Murphy characters. Even with some reduced effectiveness, the answer is mostly a yes.
Coming 2 America is amusing enough, but when you remember how hilarious and even heartfelt Coming to America was, there’s a chasm between the two. Now, that doesn’t mean that this movie doesn’t work, but it does remind you how much better the first one was. At the same time, it doesn’t help that the funniest moments here, by far, are the ones that feature flashbacks to the prior flick. Reminding us of those fond memories is both a help and a hindrance. There’s goodwill generated, but we see the difference.
Akeem (Murphy) has been living happily in Zamunda since the events of the first film. Married to Lisa (Shari Headley), they have three daughters, one of which is Meeka (KiKi Layne), who wants nothing more than to be Akeem’s heir. When King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) is in poor health, he alerts Akeem to a long-lost son, who can truly be Akeem’s heir once Jaffe passes. Sent back to Queens, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) find the woman (Leslie Jones) that Akeem impregnated, as well as his son LaVelle (Jermaine Fowler). A little flashing of the wealth later, and the pair are off to Zamunda.
The arrival of LaVelle causes friction in the family. Meeka sees a rival, Lisa sees conflict inside of Akeem, and the whole dynamic is thrown off. Plus, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) from a rival nation is plotting something. Akeem and Izzi arrange for LaVelle to be married to Izzi’s daughter, but that has issues of its own. It all resembles the first one, as you’d imagine.
Eddie Murphy again plays multiple roles, and again is having a blast. Playing Akeem, Clarence, Randy, and Saul clearly fuels him. The barbershop scenes are Murphy at his sharpest, but he finds an interesting way to make Akeem both recognizable as well as new. In many ways, he’s a mixture of his father and his former self. He’s the star, though the narrative focuses almost equally on Jermaine Fowler, who has the juiciest role. It’s not as three-dimensional as Akeem was the first time, but it works. Returning supporting players like James Earl Jones, Arsenio Hall (also playing multiple roles again), and Shari Headley have way less to do, while John Amos and Louie Anderson basically are cameos. Among newcomers, Leslie Jones, KiKi Layne, Tracy Morgan, and Wesley Snipes are fine, but don’t really move the needle.
Craig Brewer is obviously comfortable with Eddie Murphy after teaming up on Dolemite is My Name, so he was a strong choice to helm the film. There’s definitely a healthy respect for Coming to America, though a clear focus on telling a new story as well. Brewer definitely does his job. Plus, he again teams with Ruth E. Carter for some spectacular costumes. The issue more is that the screenplay, credited to the group of Barry W. Blaustein, Kenya Barris, Justin Kanew, and David Sheffield, falls a bit short. The jokes just aren’t as funny. They ace the barbershop scenes, but the special sauce of the first one is in somewhat shorter supply.
Coming 2 America is not on the same level as Coming to America. It’s a mostly amusing comedy sequel that pales in comparison to the last one. However, considering it’s available to watch for free on Prime Video tomorrow, the price is certainly right. Eddie Murphy fans will enjoy him revisiting these roles. Those looking for an affable comedy will be at least somewhat satisfied. Anything beyond that? Well, your mileage may vary with this movie…