Movie Review – Coming 2 America
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The sequel to Coming to America (1988) isn’t rated R. This sequel is instead PG-13. Good comedies can be PG-13. They can even be G-rated, but this one feels really watered down from the previous. It feels more kid or family friendly. It feels safe and not as edgy as it could have been and indeed should have been. It’s not simply a matter of being able to curse or say swear words, which neuters things a bit. It’s also not simply a matter of being able to show nudity or be sexually explicit, which tames the romance or potential passion. It’s that there’s no sharpness to this film. There’s no sting to it. As others have pointed out, the 1988 film was a critique of African-American culture using African culture as a comparison, even if a lot of it was African stereotypes. This film has no real critique of anything, which means there’s no real bite to any of the jokes. There are jokes, but they just feel bland or mildly amusing. There’s no punch.
The original film was a film that was mostly set in the United States, in New York City. The African world where the protagonists were born was just a framework or bookends. The African world, in an ironic depiction, was just a stand-in for opulence and wealth. Africa has practically all of the least developed countries. It has mostly impoverished or low economic nations. To depict an African country with so much opulence and wealth was a very subversive thing in the 1980’s, especially in the wake of “We Are the World” (1985), a song meant to benefit poor and starving countries in Africa. Yet, because the original film didn’t spend too much time in Africa, it didn’t have to concern itself with why its fictional African country was so opulent and wealthy.
Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor and Beverly Hills Cop) reprises his role of Prince Akeem Joffer, the heir to the throne of Zamunda, a fictional African country that has a monarchy. There are actually a lot of monarchs in Africa. Some of them are quite wealthy despite their countries being quite impoverished. Some of that wealth comes from the state or federal government. Some of that wealth is inherited. Some of it is the result of those kings being shrewd businessmen and having large companies that do mining, drilling for oil and commercial investments. It’s never made clear how Akeem has his wealth or where it’s derived. This isn’t a problem in the first film because again, the majority of that film isn’t set in Africa. It’s set in the USA.
It does become a problem in this film because the majority of this film is set in Africa. The majority of this film is set in Zamunda. In New York City, there’s a lot that’s assumed and can be taken for granted. Since Zamunda is a fictional place, there’s a lot that can’t be taken for granted because so much is unfamiliar. There are things that can’t even be assumed, even if you’re a person who is familiar with a monarchy like the British monarchy because apparently things don’t operate even the same as the British monarchy. The British monarchy was on mind because coincidentally this film was released on March 5th, the same weekend as Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Jermaine Fowler (Sorry to Bother You and Superior Donuts) co-stars as Lavelle Junson, the illegitimate son of Prince Akeem. When Akeem becomes king of Zamunda, Lavelle becomes the new heir to the throne. The wrinkle is that Akeem didn’t even know that Lavelle existed until Lavelle was 30 years old. Lavelle was conceived in Queens, New York, prior to Akeem meeting his current American wife, which is what played out in the 1988 film. This film inserts into that history that Akeem conceived Lavelle after someone did to him what Bill Cosby did to women. Lavelle has been struggling to make something of himself. He has the skills to apply for a corporate job, but he keeps getting unlucky. When he learns his father is a wealthy king, he jumps on the opportunity to go to Africa and live in the lap of luxury.
There are essentially two dramatic plot points. The first is an echo from the previous film. In the 1988 flick, Akeem had an arranged marriage to a woman who was raised to be totally subservient to her husband. She didn’t have her own mind or personality. Akeem wanted a woman who was the opposite of that. He wanted an independent woman who was going to take her own stance and pursue her interests. It was a very feminist idea for him to have, and a radical one given the country and the culture of Zamunda, which is very patriarchal. This film basically has Lavelle go through the same thing and arrive at the same conclusion. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t provide the breathing space for what will be Lavelle’s lesson and his romance.
Nomzamo Mbatha plays Mirembe, the Royal barber or groomer. She’s basically a hair stylist that works for the monarch. She’s there to do Lavelle’s hair. She ends up spending more time inexplicably with Lavelle. He ends up falling for her and she in return. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t provide the breathing space to sell the idea of their love. For example, in the 1988 film, we got so many scenes between Akeem and his love interest, Lisa. They got probably a dozen or more scenes. Here, it feels like Lavelle and Mirembe only get two scenes and not much more to sell their romance, and it’s just not enough. In the 1988 film, we met Lisa’s family and friends. We got so much about her personal, as well as her professional life. We don’t get that depth or well-rounded view of Miremble here.
It could be assumed that Mirembe lives in the palace, which is the home of Akeem, but even that isn’t clear. If she doesn’t live in the palace, it’s not clear where she lives. However, that goes to another issue. The film doesn’t do the necessary world building for Zamunda. It’s a similar complaint that I had about Black Panther (2018) and its fictional country of Wakanda. Yet, I have a far better grasp of Wakanda’s geography, population and economy than I ever got of Zamunda’s. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if the film didn’t spend so much time in Zamunda and make its second dramatic plot point based on the geography and economy.
Wesley Snipes (Blade and New Jack City) also co-stars as General Izzi, the leader of a neighboring country to Zamunda. He’s apparently at odds with Akeem and is on the brink of war with Zamunda. The specifics of why he’s at odds or why he’s on the brink of war are never made clear. There’s a vague reference to the reason being economic in nature. He mentions something about trade, but it’s never fully understood what his beef is. At one point, I thought he might be an exaggerated version of Idris Elba’s character in Beasts of No Nation (2015), but no. The politics and economics in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) were more clear than the politics and economics here. The only thing General Izzi is there to do is to be an antagonist pushing for one of Akeem’s children to marry one of his. It’s not clear though how that would solve whatever economic problem is plaguing his country. He talks about uniting the two countries, but their children marrying wouldn’t literally unite the countries, so his presence only adds to the confusion than clarity.
All of this just feels like a flimsy excuse for Murphy and Arsenio Hall to put on the makeup they had in 1988 and re-create their iconic characters from the previous film. Those iconic characters include a barbershop full of wise-cracking curmudgeons. There are other characters, but those barbershop characters are by far the funniest. They were possibly the funniest things in the 1988 film and they are no question the funniest things in this entire film.
Kiki Layne (The Old Guard and If Beale Street Could Talk) plays Meeka, the eldest daughter to Akeem. She’s a princess. Before they learned about Lavelle, she was in line to be the heir to the throne. Despite being laws that prevent women from doing a lot of things in Zamunda, she seemed confident she would take the throne. Because the 1988 film had such a feminist angle to it, this film focusing on Meeka’s ascension to the throne is a great idea. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the case here. Meeka is mostly sidelined, so that the film can focus on the grooming of Lavelle. Why she has the lesser screen time here is the film’s biggest mistake.
Finally, this film takes a moment to praise American cinema and I don’t want to belittle the many amazing titles that are American cinema, but the praise comes from Mirembe who was born and raised in an African country. For her not to acknowledge Nollywood or even nearby Bollywood is a kind of African erasure that’s a bit of a shame here. I’d say if you want to see Eddie Murphy as the king or leader of an African country, check out Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time (1992), if watching something by Jackson isn’t too problematic or triggering.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and drug content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.
Available on Amazon Prime.