Besides Eddie Murphy’s role in 2019’s surprisingly impressive Dolemite Is My Name, the iconic comedy actor has been largely absent from cinematic endeavours since his time as Donkey in Shrek’s land of Far Far Away. Dabbling in independent film and TV comedy during that time, Murphy has since failed to re-create the meteoric impact he’d had on popular culture in the 1980s with notable films like Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. Naturally, to re-create the same success as his career’s inception, both of these films have undergone the sequel treatment, with Beverly Hills Cop IIII slated for a near-future release, whilst Coming 2 America was acquired by Amazon studios to help quell the worries of a COVID-anxious generation in 2021.
With over 30 years having passed since the audiences’ last trip to Zamunda, Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem has ascended to King’s rank following the early departure of his father and a short cameo from Hollywood royalty James Earl Jones. With news, however, of his long-lost son and heir to the throne in the United States, Akeem must return to America with servant Semmi in tow in order to bring him back to the kingdom.
Rolling back through the doors of the My-T-Sharp barbershop to the wrinkled prosthetic faces of Clarence, Saul, Morris is a nostalgia-soaked experience but for all the wrong reasons. The snappy back-and-forth between the prosthetic-laden Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are sad echoes of once fresh material. Each character looks and feels exactly the same, the shop and even the positions of each character feel unchanged, though the spirited essence of what made the original so great has gone.
It’s a familiar feeling and one that often arises every time an old film is dug up from the past to receive an unwelcome sequel. Bizarrely, it’s an issue that’s even discussed in the film itself between long-lost son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his love interest, as they say in unison: “This is true about sequels, if something is good, why ruin it”. Either an ill-timed self-referential joke or an unusual highlight of the film’s own shortcomings, the statement is undeniably true, though, and it proceeds to turn the film into a pantomime of sorts, a spoof of its own existence.
The will for greatness from Eddie Murphy, Jermaine Fowler, and Leslie Jones, particularly, is there, but the script from screenwriting trio Kenya Barris, David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein is undeniably barren of humour. The set design from Douglas A. Mowat and the dazzling costume work from Ruth E Carters create an impressive stage for the film, but the show never really starts despite the vast number of hollow dance sequences.
An inconsequential central plotline slams the brakes on any necessary character development, with Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi left to twiddle his thumbs on the sidelines, remaining largely unused. Instead, efforts are focused on touchpoints to the original film, obscure cameos, meaningless sub-plots, and even archive footage of the 1988 film itself. Desperate to make you remember and recall the quality of its predecessor, Coming 2 America forgets to focus on the present, creating a harmless, if totally fruitless comedy that fails to see the potential in its ranks.