Well poop. This one is disappointing guys. I guess it’s not surprising that a years-later sequel to a wildly beloved comedy doesn’t deliver—they rarely do—but it feels especially egregious with Coming 2 America because Eddie Murphy seems to be having SUCH a good time in it, and yet it it is SO bad and also, DEEPLY misguided. Murphy returns as Prince Akeem of Zamunda (among other characters), who is still happily married to Princess Lisa (Shari Headley) 30 years later and now has three daughters. The oldest of these, Meeka (Kiki Layne), is a badass who has been preparing her whole life to someday rule Zamunda, even though her country is still governed by outdated and sexist laws that ban women from ruling (and owning businesses). This is a GREAT setup for a sequel, setting up Akeem’s daughter to follow in his footsteps by fleeing the oppressive atmosphere of Zamunda to explore America, her mother’s idealized homeland, experiencing the kind of fish-out-of-water humor people loved about the first film, but updated for the 21st century.
That is not what happens. What actually happens is that Akeem finds out he unknowingly fathered a son in America all those years ago, and he goes back to Queens to retrieve said son to groom him to become the crown prince, staving off conflict with Zamunda’s neighbor, Nextdoria. (Wesley Snipes shows up as General Izzi, leader of Nextdoria, giving way more energy than this film deserves.) Several things about the actual setup for the film are problematic (I hate that word, it’s so overused it’s practically useless, but it is true here). First, Zamunda is depicted as a wealthy nation apparently untouched by imperialism’s scars—though it is INCREDIBLY patriarchal—while Nextdoria is a comedy take on an impoverished, war-torn African nation, which feels gross and inappropriate and a joke about child soldiers is especially tasteless. Then there is how Akeem came to father his son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). We flashback to the nightclub scene in Coming To America, where Semmi (Arsenio Hall) persuades a woman at the club, Mary (Leslie Jones), to occupy Akeem while Semmi sleeps with her friend. Mary gets Akeem so high he has no memory of this event, and then she has sex with him.
Yes, that’s right, the entire premise of Coming 2 America rests on non-consensual sex. If you include a sex scene in your comedy that is so egregious it causes people to ask if the main character has just been assaulted, you should rethink your sex scene. It’s doubly egregious because Coming 2 America doesn’t even need Lavelle! Meeka is RIGHT THERE, ready to be the next-gen Akeem. Also, when they share the screen Kiki Layne completely shines down Jermaine Fowler in a way that makes you wonder why he’s even there. Fowler has been good in other things (Crashing, Superior Donuts), but Kiki Layne is a powerhouse, and he can’t hold the screen against her. Lavelle is a redundant character in an unnecessary premise, which makes the sex scene not only unfunny and misguided, but a total waste of time. Coming 2 America is about, in as much as it’s about anything, Akeem finally living up to his youthful intent to reform Zamunda and pave the way for Meeka to rule. A long-lost son is not needed for that premise. We learn early on that Meeka is excluded from the succession, that is enough of a roadblock to her goal and an object for Akeem to overcome. The Lavelle stuff is just uncomfortable icing on an already complete cake.
This is the biggest issue with Coming 2 America, but it’s hardly the only one. Original screenwriters Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, with the addition of Kenya Barris, recycle many jokes from the original with only a few new additions that actually work. That so many jokes don’t land is also a problem, though the barbershop bits remain good, and the “McFlurby” joke is GREAT (it got my only laugh). Craig Brewer, who directed Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, is less inspired here, but again, there are a few scenes that land right, particularly a drunken confrontation between Lisa and Akeem. Also, Ruth E. Carter’s costume design is outstanding. She builds on her Oscar-winning take on Afrofuturism in Black Panther with these costumes, giving us even more eye-popping ensembles throughout the film. There are individual elements of Coming 2 America that work, but overall, it is hobbled by the mistaken premise and that awful explanation for the existence of Akeem’s son. While I like seeing Eddie Murphy back on screen, Coming 2 America is just so misguided it’s impossible to enjoy.
Coming 2 America is now streaming on Amazon Prime.