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"Coming To America" Review

 The trend of incredibly belated sequels like Blade Runner 2049 (which came out 35 years after the original) continues next month with the release of Coming 2 America, the sequel to 1988 Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming To America, on Amazon Prime after its theatrical release was nuked by Hot Fad Plague 2020-21. I haven't seen the original entirely since it was in theaters, but a former co-worker (who suddenly passed away a year ago; I miss him) and I used to quote bits of the movie, especially the old Jewish man (also played by Murphy under Rick Baker's Oscar-nominated makeup) who hung out at the barbershop. 

Since the missus hadn't seen it and it had been 33 years for me, we decided to catch up on the original. She quickly fell asleep because, as I'm finding distressingly often lately, this comedy "classic" simply doesn't hold up beyond the parts people remember so fondly. It's similar to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which was never a great movie, but is really thin stuff now. (That it's sequels actually were significantly better bucks trends.) 

For the kids out there, Coming To America was the story of Akeem (Murphy), the crown prince of Zamunda (the fictional African country that's not Wakanda), who lives a life of ridiculous luxury, having even the most intimate personal hygiene performed by servants. On his 21st birthday, he is presented the woman whom it has been arranged for him to marry by his father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones. Bored and disenchanted with his pampered life and not interested in marrying a woman who has no will of her own, having been raised to only serve her future husband, he begs his father to allow him to travel to America for 40 days. King, thinking it's just a Rumspringa-style break to "sow his Royal oats," approves.

Accompanied by his best friend and aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem decides the best place to find a Queen of his own would be Queens, New York City. He requests the cab driver take him to the most common area of the borough and ends up in a rough neighborhood where their mountain of luggage is promptly stolen by the locals the moment their backs are turned. Posing as students, they move into a squalid apartment with a shared bathroom for the floor and set out to meet women. 

After an unsatisfactory (but amusing) tour of the clubs, Akeem and Semmi attend a local rally where Akeem spots Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), a bright, independent woman when she gives a speech. Wanting to meet her, he and Semmi take jobs at her father's McDonald's knockoff, McDowell's. Concealing his true identity and reveling in doing manual labor, something Semmi does not share Akeem's enthusiasm for, he tries to get to know Lisa, who is dating Daryl (ER's Eric La Salle), a snotty heir to the Soul Glo hair relaxer fortune, which makes him prime husband material to her father (John Amos) to the extent that he announces Daryl's engagement to Lisa at a party without bothering to let Lisa know first. 

Taken by Akeem's polite charm, Lisa starts falling for him, but the usual spanners get thrown into the works when Semmi's telegram home requesting more money sparks an intervention by King Joffe and his wife (Madge Sinclair) as they rush to America to retrieve their wayward son, blowing his cover, and causing a rift between the lovers. Don't worry, it all works out in the end; no Romeo & Juliet double suicide ending here. 

What was so surprising about revisiting Coming To America was how dreadfully dull and slow-paced it is and how completely forgettable the core plot was. What has propped it up as a "comedy classic" is all the superfluous bits involving Murphy and Hall playing alternate characters disguised under Baker's makeup from the old barbers and Jewish man at the barbershop to a reverend and mediocre R&B singer fronting the band Sexual Chocolate. That the goofy sideshow material is what endures in the collective memory is a testament to the rote story. 

The core problem with the story, beyond its shallow familiarity, is the complete lack of a character arc for Akeem. He starts the movie bored with his life and seeking to break free of tradition and then does just that. Other than changing scenery, he doesn't evolve. If he had been a spoiled brat (like the Daryl character) and angered his father who then sent him to America to learn some humility amongst the poor folks, that would've been something. Instead he's always decent and good and just needs to get a like-minded decent girl to like him, too. Murphy is charming as Akeem, but only really unleashes his talents as the makeup characters. 

Beyond the script, most of the blame lands on director John Landis' shoulders. After a streak of genuine classics - he did The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, and Trading Places - he never had another critical or commercial hit after the tragic accident which occurred while filming his segment of the Twilight Zone movie other than Coming To America. (While Trading Places filmed after the accident, something clearly broke in Landis and the CTA gig was a charity offering from Murphy and they butted heads during filming.) Clocking in at nearly two hours, everything drags and lacks energy. 

The sequel was directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) who last teamed with Murphy for the very entertaining Netflix biopic My Name Is Dolomite. While the premise is a head-scratcher (Akeem finds out he has a son in America, but since he never has sex with anyone in the first movie, um, whut?) and they're bringing back the barbershop guys (who looked to be at least in their 60s, so shouldn't they be dead by now?), there's not much of a bar to clear to be an improvement over the original. We'll see.

Score: 4/10. Skip it and watch the barbershop (note Cuba Gooding Jr. as the customer), Sexual Chocolate, and robbery (with Samuel L. Jackson!) scenes on YouTube.


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