Coming 2 America (2021)
A sequel is in the heir.
Coming 2 America, the new sequel to the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy vehicle, is a celebration. Of the original film, of African American culture, and specifically of Eddie Murphy himself, one of the greatest comedians of all time.
We’re at the dawn of the second Eddie Murphy renaissance; following a few dud years after his initial incandescent success, there was a moment where Murphy was looking at a “serious actor” second act after his critically acclaimed turn in 2007’s Dreamgirls, which scored him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. That success didn’t yield further results, and we had a few quiet, disappointing years until 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name reminded us that, yes, Eddie Murphy is a wildly charismatic performer, and our screens are much improved by having him on them.
It’s Dolemite director Craig Brewer on the reins again here, indicating that Murphy and Brewer’s creative chemistry is responsible for this nascent third (fourth?) act. Stylistically, Brewer’s authorial voice is muted here; smartly, he’s content to sit back and let Murphy, his friends, and co-stars do the work. Narratively, Coming 2 America is pretty much what you’d expect. Decades after the first film, which saw Murphy’s Prince Akeem Joffer of the fictional African nation of Zamunda decamp to Queens to find himself a worthy bride, our guy is now happily married to Lisa (Shari Headley) and preparing to take over as King from his aged father, Jaffe (James Earl Jones, wonderful). It’s the next generation that’s giving him some grief; Akeem and Lisa have only had daughters, and their eldest, Meeka (KiKi Layne), can’t inherit the throne, rulership apparently being a boys’ club. In a slick bit of retconning, right-hand man Semmi (Arsenio Hall) recalls a weed-powered one-night stand that Akeem had on his first trip to U.S., which may have produced an heir. And so, we’re off.
What we get is effectively Coming to Zamunda. Once Akeem tracks down his kid, ticket scalper Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), he brings him back home to learn how to be a prince, with his ghetto fabulous mother Mary (Leslie Jones) and uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) in tow. The plan is to marry him to Princess Bopoto of Nextdoria (Teyana Taylor) to placate her father, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes, fantastic), but, of course, Lavelle has his own ideas and is falling for royal barber Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) and … look, you know how this is going to play out, right?
But that’s kind of the point — Coming 2 America is comfortingly familiar. It’s kind of amazing how everyone falls back into the rhythms of characters and stations last employed over three decades ago, and it’s impressive how the new additions to the roster fall into the groove. Veterans like Morgan, Jones, and Snipes were always going to be great (the interplay between Morgan and Hall is brilliant, and Snipes is clearly relishing being in a big, high-profile movie again after his own wilderness years), but the younger crew are just as good. Jermaine Fowler, in particular, is an engaging and funny second lead and has the confidence and charisma to go toe to toe with Murphy, which is impressive, and after his appearance here and in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) it’s clear he’s going to be a familiar face going forward.
The whole thing is effortlessly enjoyable, and while there are a few galling missteps (an early call back to a transphobic joke in the 1988 film is a total clanger), the humor has been updated to reflect contemporary concerns and mores. We revisit familiar territory, such as the faux-McDonalds restaurant McDowells and the Queens barbershop where the staff and regulars are all played by Murphy and Hall, but the former is trialing plant-based burgers, and at the latter, the repartee is all about gentrification, the rise of the Far Right, and gender identity. It’s not a prominent change, but it’s noticeable and welcome — I can’t see anyone decrying the film as “going woke” being taken too seriously.
Besides, Coming 2 America is too busy being entertaining for that. The jokes are rapid-fire, self-effacing, and fun. At one point, the movie stops dead for musical numbers by Salt-N-Pepa and Gladys Knight. There’s even a gag reel played over the credits. It’s that sort of movie: a warm, inviting kind of hang-out joint, and it’d take a particularly hard heart to decline its invitation.
Eddie Murphy is now two for two in his current career phase. Dolemite Is My Name drew critical plaudits while Coming 2 America pleases both old fans and new. Next up is his highly anticipated return to the stand-up comedy stage, and I legitimately can’t wait. It’s just so good to have him back where he belongs.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Travis Johnson