Eddie Murphy in 'Coming 2 America' (2021) (courtesy of © 2021 Courtesy of Amazon Studios

‘Coming 2 America’? Sure, Why Not?

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s unasked-for sequel, ‘Coming 2 America’, clears its very low bar and reminds that Wesley Snipes is a damn movie star.

Coming 2 America
Craig Brewer
Amazon Studios
5 March 2021 (US)

A self-aware and extremely low-stakes comedy sequel, Coming 2 America doesn’t have much of a reason to exist other than many of the stars and filmmakers thought it might be fun. That let’s-put-on-a-show attitude can often be a recipe for disaster, as evidenced by pretty much every movie the Rat Pack made or that time when Kevin Smith made another movie with his buddies one time too many (2019’s The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot).

But while there is little comedic gold to be mined here, and it will forever be seen as the imagination-starved knockoff of 1988 original, Coming 2 America is successful in the way that Michael Showalter‘s The Lovebirds (2020) was: Just barely funny enough to be worth less than two hours of one’s time, especially during a pandemic.

The gleaming fantasy African kingdom of Zamunda introduced in Coming to America is still going strong 30 years, though trouble is knocking. King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) is on his last legs and concerned that his son, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), has yet to sire a son with Princess Lisa (Shari Headley). Zamunda’s neighboring kingdom—named Nextdooria by the writers, who could clearly have taken another pass or two at some of these gags—has decided Zamunda will be weak without a male heir and so their ruler, General Izzi (a fire-breathing Wesley Snipes), is eager to invade.

To forestall war, Akeem and his long-suffering sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall) takes the royal jet back to “the barbaric land of Queens” where, before snagging Lisa, he apparently fathered a son whom he just heard about. Once there, Akeem quickly finds “my bastard son” Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and brings him and his mother, Mary (Leslie Jones), back to Zamunda for a quick course in becoming a royal.

That’s about it for the plot. Besides reintroducing nearly every one of the prosthetics-swathed characters played by Hall and Murphy, Coming 2 America also reuses the original’s primary storyline. This time, instead of Akeem looking for a non-arranged marriage and a woman he can connect with, Lavelle finds himself less interested in the robotic Zamundan bride who is thrown at him (singer Teyana Taylor, who performs one of the films’s many big song-and-dance numbers) and drawn to his free-spirited and open-minded royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).

None of this is taken with even a hint of seriousness, probably as it should be. That leaves a fair amount of screen time to fill, however. That filler is divided about evenly between reprisals of the original film’s side characters (among which the cantankerous and cackling old barbershop guys, who can’t decide between Idi Amin and The Lion King (Allers, Minkoff, 1994) references to mock Akeem, clearly deserve their own offshoot video short series) and some King Ralph-esque material (Ward, 1991) in which Lavelle’s raucous family (including a very welcome Tracy Morgan) knock about the Zamundan palace.

As the first mainstream post-Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) story a fantasy African land that turns colonialist notions on their head (Americans are the uncivilized brutes here), Coming 2 America misses some opportunities to play more with the concept beyond the odd Wakanda joke. It would be asking too much for a franchise comedy to engage in any world-building. But given that most of the film takes place in Africa—it’s barely in Queens long enough to make a gag about gentrification—the limitation of its portrayal of Zamunda to the royal palace is hard to understand.

Indeed, the film’s universe is so underdeveloped that when Izzi comes marching into the palace with his WWE-style hype man and soldiers, it’s unclear whether Zamunda even has an army. It’s possible the kingdom doesn’t have much money for the military, given its entertainment budget. Following the original’s interest in the royal spectacle, several blow-out palace parties feature some surprisingly well-choreographed dance numbers. 

Coming 2 America‘s relative lack of story and somewhat thin screenplay puts the burden of comedy squarely on the performers. Overall, they handle the task quite neatly. Murphy, who seems comfortable working again with Craig Brewer, his director from Dolemite Is My Name (2019), sticks with playing the somewhat befuddled innocent and ceding the side players’ spotlight. Of these, Jones and Morgan deliver their particular brand of Belushian chaos, but it’s really Snipes who brings something new. Peacocking through the film with an attention-seeking clownishness that recalls his Demolition Man (Brambilla, 1992) swagger, Snipes earns every second of screen time.

While the same cannot be said of Coming 2 America as a whole, it at least acknowledges its unessential nature. In a pointed moment, Lavelle and Mirembe talk about films and the dearth of Hollywood imagination, specifically “sequels nobody asked for.” It’s an attempt at self-inoculation that, like the rest of the film, is funny enough. But just barely.

Coming 2 America is currently available in the US via Amazon.

RATING 6 / 10
PopMatters