‘Coming 2 America’ feels like a reunion with long-lost friends

By Douglas Davidson

March 4, 2021

To paraphrase a line from Craig Brewer, the director of Coming 2 America, Hollywood is nothing but superhero films, remakes, and sequels no one asked for. The last time audiences took a trip to the fictional African country Zamunda, the year was 1988, comedian/actor Eddie Murphy was untouchable, and the idea of an African Prince coming to the United States to find love seemed like just another rom-com with a Black twist. But Coming 2 America is a rousing and surprising follow-up. It doesn’t have that spark of the original, but it doesn’t have to and, smartly, doesn’t try. Rather, it’s a 109-minute reunion with some long-lost friends.

Arsenio Hall as Semmi and Eddie Murphy as King Akeem Joffer. Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Over 30 years since Akeem went to Queens, NY to find his queen in Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), marriage is once more on the mind of Akeem as it is the only thing that will prevent a blood feud between Zamunda and a nearby rival country led by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). With Akeem’s eldest daughter Meeka (Kiki Layne) unwilling to marry Izzi’s son Idi (Rotmi), war seems certain. That is until Akeem learns that he may have sired a son during his trip to America and that son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), may be just the solution he needs to broker peace through a marriage to Izzi’s daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor). Where Akeem was once the out-of-place journeyman in America, he must now guide Lavelle through the traditions of Zamunda; except, while peace seems certain, Akeem discovers that the apple may not fall far from the tree.

Teyana Taylor as as Bopoto Izzi (General Izzi’s daughter) and Jermaine Fowler as as Lavelle Junson. Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The screenplay by Barry W. Blaustein (Coming to America), David Sheffield (Coming to America), and Kenya Barris (Black-ish)– based on a story by Blaustein, Sheffield, and Justin Kanew (National Lampoon’s Adam and Eve)– harkens back to the original tale and what audiences loved about the original film in the late eighties. As shown from the trailer, that means the boys from the barbershop, loyal royal servant Oha (Paul Bates), Cleo McDowell (John Amos) and countless more, all make their return.

Jermaine Fowler as Lavelle Junson, Eddie Murphy as King Akeem Joffer, and Tracy Morgan as Reem Junson. Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Where the first film was about Akeem becoming his own person in the shadow of his father, breaking tradition and choosing his bride, the second film explores how the rebellious nature of youth can be tempered by time to the point of forgetting who we once were. It also makes a point to explore the inherent misogyny of the previous film and how the progressive acts of once-young men can still cling to antiquated notions of social control. Akeem broke the chain of tradition by not marrying Colonel Izzi’s daughter, yet he does not see the difference with his own children nor does he ponder how it’s okay for him to break the rules as he sees fit, yet is so willing to adhere to the law for his daughters. Amid countless laughs, Coming 2 America explores some heady concepts that one wouldn’t expect, but deserve to be discussed, considered, and acted upon.

KiKi Layne as Princess Meeka Joffer, Bella Murphy as Princess Omma Joffer, and Akiley Love as Princess Tinashe Joffer. Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert courtesy of Paramount Pictures

This is not to suggest that Coming 2 America is a feminist SJW tale. It dips its toe in narratively, but never really goes for it. As presented now, Zamunda isn’t the paradise it’s propped up to be. Specifically in the way it depicts gender roles, something which it uses as a significant narrative catalyst. To not use the women more in the story (especially Layne, who is woefully under used here) seems strange. Coming 2 America is really at its best when Layne, Headley, and Nomzamo Mbatha’s Mirembe are on screen. This, in combination with a heavy reliance on callbacks to the original, makes Coming 2 America less substantial as a film on its own terms.

Eddie Murphy as as King Akeem Joffer and KiKi Layne as Princess Meeka Joffer. Photo: Annette Brown courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Don’t get me wrong, Coming 2 America is a strong continuation of the story. The script doesn’t offer fan service for the sake of it; rather, familiar faces are worked in organically. There are even new faces with old connections. Brewer captures the feel of the original direction without mimicking, so that Coming 2 America is far more modern in appearance by comparison. Oscar-winner Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther) rejoins Brewer and Murphy from their time on Dolemite to dress the entire cast and, holy hell, the looks of this cast are beyond memorable. The ornate outfits of the Royal Joffer family are gorgeous, as are all the outfits worn by any of the Africa-based characters. In addition to all the faces you remember, there are some new ones, including a scene-stealing Snipes (whose recent, and best, work seems to come in partnership with Brewer), Leslie Jones making a meal of every scene, Tracy Morgan bringing his usual high energy, and a cavalcade of surprises that’ll have you hollering with joy. 

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Ultimately, Coming 2 America is a blast of a film. It leans more into the comedy than the original, but you can’t blame Murphy and company for having some fun. The story is as sweet as the first, paying homage to the original in ways that are both creative and ridiculous. It’s the kind of pseudo-carefree romp that feels like a balm for the soul. Coming 2 America will make you feel like you’ve just spent 109 minutes with old friends. It certainly helps that all involved, new cast and old, are having an absolute ball. That energy jumps right off the screen and into your living room. It truly is another beautiful day in Zamunda. 

Coming 2 America will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video March 5, 2021.

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