Film Review – Coming 2 America (2021)

Sequels. What a wonderful yet frustrating little idea Are we right? To get one right is something of a fool’s errand, with most of them failing, so we cling on tight to those that did (The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight, National Treasure 2). To do a comedy sequel, though, is like being on a hiding to nothing: how do you make audiences laugh at the same joke twice, and twice as hard? Waiting three decades to do so, too, feels like something of a suicide mission.

Jokes don’t work the same as they did, audiences have moved on and, of course, grown-up. What might have been funny in our formative years may not make us laugh in 2021, especially as the world around us has changed so much. This was always going to the challenge for Eddie Murphy and Co when they announced that Coming 2 America was going ahead: some 33 years later, would a 1988 comedy really be worth revisiting deep into the 21st century? Well, actually, it seems it was. Just.

 

Returning to the palatial surroundings of Zamunda after all these years, Prince Akeem (Murphy) about to become King as his father, Jaffe (James Earl Jones) is close to passing. Akeem has three daughters with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley), a fact that his father still laments but, with his final hours approaching, he drops a bombshell: Akeem has a son in Queens – Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) – conceived during his initial visit thirty years ago before he met Lisa and is charged with bringing him “home” to take his place as ruler-in-waiting. With trusty aide Semi (Arsenio Hall) by his side as ever, he heads back to America to retrieve him and put him through the Royal trials to see if he is worthy.

Is this set-up a little lazy and half-baked? Perhaps, but as a new entry into the world of McDowell‘s, Randy Watson, and My-T-Sharp barber shops, it just about does the job. A lot has changed in the world since the original and what director Craig Brewer and writers Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield have done is pay homage to the past while embracing the future. Much of what the original does right wouldn’t cut the mustard by modern standards, falling well short of race, class, sex, and political correctness, but with a short back and sides, the script manages to avoid such traps, even if many of its callbacks fall mighty flat more often than not.

Indeed, the whole shell of the narrative is ostensibly a remake of the original. Fish out of water? Check. Royal traditions need a modern tearing down? Check. Love between two people that is frowned upon? Check. We’re sure many will see this as the ultimate insult to such a classic film that broke the rules itself in many ways, but there’s enough new material to pass the laughter test. Indeed, new additions Fowler, Leslie Jones, and Kiki Layne provide much of the film’s freshness alongside welcome returns from the old gang. Murphy, on a high, since his latest comeback with the brilliant Dolomite Is My Name, has lost none of this comedic timing and it’s great to see him and Hall together again, but their duo doesn’t quite have the same zing. Then again, was it ever going to?

★★ 1/2


Comedy | USA, 2020 | 12 | 5th March 2021 | Amazon Prime Video | Dir.Craig Brewer | Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Shari Shadely, James Earl Jones,  Leslie Jones, Kiki Layne