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Review: Coming 2 America Exasperatingly Settles for a Clip-Show Vibe

Even by the woeful standards of decades-too-late comedy sequels, Coming 2 America is desperate, belabored, and thin.

.5
Coming 2 America
Photo: Amazon Studios

Craig Brewer’s Coming 2 America suggests a feature-length version of the blooper reel that plays alongside the final credits of some mainstream comedies. The film feels like the result of an improvisational shoot that bore little fruit, as it’s scattershot and patched together, with talented actors mugging wildly in an effort to paper over the fact that there are yards of setup with no real plot, no emotional resonance, and virtually no continuity even within individual scenes. Even by the woeful standards of decades-too-late comedy sequels, Coming 2 America is desperate, belabored, and thin.

Decades after traveling to New York to find his true love, Akeem (Eddie Murphy), once the wealthy prince of the African nation of Zamunda, must return to the city to find his illegitimate son. Akeem is now king, and though he’s produced three daughters with his queen, Lisa (Shari Headley), Zamunda requires that a man inherit the throne. This is a simple and serviceable premise for a farce that could bookend John Landis’s Coming to America, yet Brewer and the film’s screenwriters throw this idea away almost as soon as it’s introduced.

Akeem lands in New York and immediately finds his son, LaVelle (Jermaine Fowler), and returns to Zamunda with him and the young man’s mother, Mary (Leslie Jones). With these struggling African-Americans ensconced in a palace in which their relatives enjoy profound power, another more pungent setup for a farce is broached, with Akeem’s staff having to teach LaVelle how to act royal in a potentially racially charged variation of The Princess Diaries. Astonishingly, this situation is also squandered in a matter of minutes.

The creaky Coming to America is no comedy classic, but it sprung a droll and sometimes even volatile series of fish-out-water scenarios, playing the absurdity of, say, an African prince working in a McDonald’s-style chain dead and patiently straight. The film’s governing joke, which it shares with Landis’s Trading Places, is the idea of a poverty-stricken person, especially of color, having actual mobility in a realm of turbo-charged capitalism. And certain relationships in that film are memorable, especially Akeem’s camaraderie with Arsenio Hall’s Semmi, which is clearly charged by the actors’ own rapport. Brewer sporadically illustrated this sort of patience and flair for texture in Dolemite Is My Name, but he invests Coming 2 America with no such follow through, as every moment here limply exists for its own sake, fading from memory as soon as it passes, and so no collective sense of comic momentum develops.

Instead, this over-compensating film is frenetically occupied with broad and superficial outrageousness, zipping from one parody of African royal pageantry to another, offering what are essentially a variety of self-contained riffs, with footage from the first film contributing to the meager “clip show” vibe of the proceedings. The original Coming to America’s cast members are all disappointingly reduced to walk-on roles, including Murphy, and even rudimentary character beats are whiffed. For instance, we’re not allowed to get a sense of Akeem and LaVelle’s relationship until the tacked-on climax, and LaVelle and Mary’s culture shock in Zamunda is only, and predictably, acknowledged in a handful of jokes.

Throughout, a few actors almost get by on sheer force of will. Jones’s crass, anything-to-make-this-shit-funny vitality is reminiscent of Murphy when he was less remote and self-pleased as a performer, and Wesley Snipes exudes a similar electricity as General Izzi, one of Akeem’s rivals (though in another sign of this film’s inattentiveness, they somehow have no scenes together). And Hall provides Coming 2 America with surprising, and very fleeting, moments of grace, investing Semmi with resigned poignancy even though the actor has been given virtually nothing to do. In fact, Semmi’s exasperation comes to mirror the audience’s own, as this film leaves one yearning not for the original Coming to America but for the comparative classicism of that lame-duck Landis/Murphy vehicle Beverly Hills Cop III.

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Arsenio Hall, Wesley Snipes, KiKi Layne, Paul Bates, Shari Headley, Tracy Morgan, Louie Anderson, John Amos, Clint Smith, Teyana Taylor, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Rotimi Akinosho, Bella Murphy, James Earl Jones Director: Craig Brewer Screenwriter: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, Kenya Barris Distributor: Amazon Studios Running Time: 110 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2021 Buy: Soundtrack

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