Coming 2 America is the Anchorman 2 of Black comedy sequels, and I don’t exactly mean that as a compliment.
Much like when Will Ferrell and company reunited to do a cameo-filled, unruly-as-hell, 2013 follow-up to his 2004 comedy, Eddie Murphy and the cast from his 1988 hit are together again for a movie that’s equal parts special guest stars and a whole lotta nonsense. This is like the movie equivalent of those nostalgic package tours where bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s perform on the same bill, taking middle-aged audiences back to the days when they were young and childless. And much like those tours, America doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. This movie plays the hits like a somabitch.
Coming 2 America picks up three decades later, with Murphy’s Prince Akeem and his wife (Shari Headley) living happily in Zamunda with their three daughters. Akeem never had a son — that is, until his ailing father (James Earl Jones) alerts him that he has an illegitimate son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) back in Queens, where Akeem looked for his spouse so many years ago. It turns out this offspring came from a weed-induced one-night stand Akeem had with a woman (Leslie Jones) whose friend was getting it on with his horny buddy Semmi (Arsenio Hall) in the next room.
Akeem’s trip back to the states is brief, as he takes his newfound son (and, reluctantly, his baby momma) back to Zamunda and grooms him to be the heir to the throne on the off-chance he’ll be assassinated by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), a warlord from a neighboring country who’s also the brother of the rejected, intended bride (Vanessa Bell Calloway) whom Akeem once ordered to bark and hop on one leg.
That’s just one of about a thousand callbacks to the original America that this America drops. If you are a diehard fan, you’ll definitely enjoy all the Easter eggs and how this movie corralled nearly everyone from the cast— even people you forgot were in it. (Not everyone is back: Prince of Soul-Glo Eriq LaSalle turned down the movie to direct more TV, while Samuel L. Jackson, who memorably played a hold-up man, is too busy being Samuel L. Jackson.)
It also gives us a heavy array of cameos: Morgan Freeman, Trevor Noah, Rick Ross, Salt-N-Pepa, even John Legend shows up in the end credits (in what seems like a Zoom call) to sing a well-known song for all the fans. Also, the menagerie of characters Murphy and Hall played underneath Rick Baker makeup are back, even those old dudes from the barber shop you thought would’ve been dead by now.
As you can see, there’s a whole lot this movie packs in. Craig Brewer (who directed Murphy in Dolemite is My Name) doesn’t direct the film so much as direct the foot traffic. The script (mostly pieced together by longtime Murphy scribes Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield and TV impresario Kenya Barris, which explains many of the sitcommy gags) piles on the subplots, including Akeem’s daughter (KiKi Layne) trying to convince her old man she can be a worthy ruler and Lavelle falling in love with a Zamudan hairdresser (Nomzamo Mbatha), even though he’s arranged to marry’s Izzi’s daughter (vocalist Teyana Taylor). We haven’t even gotten to Lavelle’s pimpalicious uncle (Tracy Morgan) coming in to make sure his nephew stays physically/mentally cool.
This double-stuffed, in-your-face, laugh-dammit-laugh America seems like an anarchic 180 to the first America, which — as a recent rewatch reminded me — is more quaint and simplistic. Say what you will about director John Landis (whose assholish behavior — especially towards Murphy — while shooting the original is already the stuff of legend), but at least he had the good sense to let everything, from the story to the jokes, happen at its own leisurely pace. He also brought out the dashing, romantic charm in Murphy. How he didn’t end up playing leading man in a slew of rom-coms after this remains one of life’s great mysteries.
Even though Murphy still beams with charisma, he’s stuck playing an aging, antiquated fool. His character is constantly reminded that he’s unfortunately no longer the tradition-scoffing maverick he once was. He’s officially an old-ass man, practically getting the younger generation ready to take over.
It almost makes you wonder if Coming 2 America is just Murphy — who’ll turn sixty in April — telling us his glory days are behind him and he’s prepared to step off the throne. If that’s the case, let’s hope he gives us some new ish before he goes — and not another repackaged, greatest-hits collection like this.
“Coming 2 America” premieres Friday on Amazon Prime Video.