Coming 2 America: The BRWC Review: I want to preface this by saying that as a kid 1988’s Coming to America, along with another Eddie Murphy vehicle directed by John Landis, 1983’s Trading Places, were two of the films I remember watching the most religiously. I loved them, and I was especially taken with Murphy’s ability to play multiple roles, which was something he would take even further in 1996’s The Nutty Professor another movie I was a big fan of growing up.
Unlike The Nutty Professor, however, Coming to America mostly seems to have held up and is a film I still enjoy, albeit for slightly different reasons, now that I’m an adult. I have returned to it more than once, and when the news broke that there was going to be a sequel I, like many others I’m sure, felt a sudden twinge of worry.
As a rule, belated sequels to classics, especially comedy classic, very seldom work. There are outliers, of course, like David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot, but by and large they are almost always a disappointment. The minute I heard Coming to America was getting the sequel treatment some thirty years after the fact, my mind was cast back to the likes of Anchorman 2, Zoolander 2, and… ugh… Vacation. Was this destined to be another example of a film more interested in placating to the fandom and cruising by on nostalgia than it was telling any kind of coherent, interesting story, or doing anything new and exciting with the characters?
Well, the answer is… sort of all of that?
2021’s Coming 2 America, directed by Craig Brewer, manages, for the most part, to capture the spirit of the original. Perhaps the biggest praise I can give it is that it ultimately winds up feeling like a continuation. Unlike so many of these belated sequels we get, the look and style of the original film is very much on display, and while it may lack Landis’ oddball sensibilities and those peculiar wide-angle shots the director is so fond of, it carries over all of the key elements and as such is consistent.
Moreover, the performances of the returning players, namely Murphy and Arsenio Hall, are pretty much on point. This isn’t a case of actors forgetting how to play their characters. Instead, everyone here seems to be genuinely happy to have come back, and all of them seem to be fully embracing the opportunity to throw on those old clothes and have another go around. Even the likes of James Earle Jones, who returns to play Akeem’s father, King Jaffee Joffer, gets stuck in, and appears to be enjoying the chance to play the character, so fearsome and in control during the first movie, as an older, quieter version.
Likewise, many of the new cast, including Jermaine Fowler’s Lavelle Junson, Leslie Jones as his mother Mary, and Tracy Morgan as Uncle Reem, all seem to be ecstatic to be a part of the film. Wesley Snipes is perhaps the least effective, although his presence alone is funny enough to paper over the cracks in the character. The love the cast and crew so clearly have for the original film really does seep through the screen, and that goes a long way in terms of making sure that Coming 2 America, at the very least, feels like a celebration than it does a cynical cash-grab.
Unfortunately, there are moments where the film falls into the traps so many other belated sequels have. It has a frustrating tendency to rely on cameo appearances, which seem to exist solely so the audience can recognize the person and not as a way to deliver any kind of meaningful joke. This is a problem that plagues the likes of Anchorman 2 and Zoolander 2 as well, and it ultimately winds up being distracting more than anything.
It also struggles to know what to do with its side characters. While the original film had fun in showcasing both Murphy and Hall’s skill as performers as well as utilizing the opportunity to create a charmingly funny yet somewhat realistic portrayal of New York life, the sequel wastes the potential possibilities afford by its premise and the comedic talents of its performers and instead resorts to a far more generic approach. Jones and Morgan are given little to do beyond show up and be themselves, and even then, the opportunity to find the amusement in these larger-than-life personas juxtaposed against the aristocratic and traditional backdrop isn’t fully utilized.
However, what the film does best is serve as a commentary on itself. There is an interesting metanarrative taking place in Coming 2 America that manages to both explore an older Prince Akeem (now King) dealing with something that he is completely unequipped to deal with – politics, responsibility, and fatherhood – and, through the character of Akeem’s some, Lavelle, use an interesting and timely plot about traditions verses morals to comment on the nature of films such as Coming 2 America itself.
It’s by no means perfect, but as far as belated sequels go it’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen. I had fun, and that was a pleasant surprise. Ultimately, I enjoyed spending time with these characters again, and I enjoyed meeting some of the new ones. If you’re a fan of the original, then there’s a lot here that’ll please you and the nostalgia alone will be enough to keep you sweet, if you’re new to the world then it works on its own as an interesting, modern story about some genuinely important topics.
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