At its heart, Eddie Murphy's Coming to America (1988) has always been a fairytale about a prince searching for true love. A hopeful heir to an African kingdom comes to America, looking for a bride 'who will arouse his intellect as well as his loins'. In between the search for love, run-ins with beat-boxing twins, a minimum wage job at McDonald's, and making elderly friends at the barbershop, the film forgot to mention what happens after the prince finds his bride. What are the political realities of the fictional nation of Zamunda? Are women considered secondary citizens there? Whatever happened to the barking woman? Tell me truthfully, have these questions not plagued you for 33 years as well?
Well lucky for us, Eddie felt a bout of generosity, rewarding his fans with yet another sequel in his long and patchy list of follow-ups to cult classics. Coming 2 American joins the likes of Beverly Hill Cop 2, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, and Dr Dolittle 2 in providing employment to yet another batch of bad makeup artists and Arsenio Hall. At some point in the film, one person, in a moment of self awareness, asks another about Hollywood, "What do we have besides superhero sh*t, remakes, and sequels to old movies nobody asked for?" A satisfying answer is never found. Neither in their conversation, nor in Coming 2 America.
The film, as if having woken up from a coma that spanned 33 years, suddenly finds itself plagued with the responsibility of doing the right thing. Taking corrective measures fit for the post MeToo world, themes of patriarchy and sexism are brought up.
These ideas not only dictate the larger plot of the movie, but also make small but stark changes in its flavour. Three decades later, Eddie's Prince Akeem has become the king of Zamunda, after his father, played by James Earl Jones in 2020 work from home mode, passes away. But now, he is troubled with another desperate situation: he does not have a male heir. His queen Lisa gave him three daughters, all bright and wise beyond their years, but with the wrong genitals. Luckily for him, Prince Akeem has just been told of his 'bastard' son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) in New York, the outcome of a crazy, drug-fuelled night with Leslie Jones.
Akeem must retrieve this son, test his grace, intellect and courage, and seat him on the throne if he wishes to secure the future of his kingdom and save his family from a dancey-groovy villain named General Izzi, played by Wesley Snipes. The fairytale themes continue, to the point of laziness. After getting his worthiness tested, Lavelle must find the right woman for himself. He has to choose between one who would bark and hop for him if he so commands, and another who could help him meet his true self. Gee, I wish he had an example to look up for some help.
Back at the household, Queen Lisa has realised her angelic husband is not all that he had promised. The kingdom runs as it always did, the daughters are as good as ornaments for the palace, and women aren't allowed to run businesses. Even though he isn't one, Akeem, too, displays the traits of an elected politician, and forgets promises that he'd previously made. The resentment from the women of the family may just be a facet, but it also shows up in smaller details. Rather than laughing along with the men at the barbershop, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) tell the oldies that women aren't playthings for men. The sexist Reverend makes an appearance but gets muted almost throughout the scene, and the loin-washing bath women are replaced with a buff man to clean the royal privates of Leslie Jones.
But as admirable as the efforts by director Craig Brewer to make this film more woke may be, the same cannot be said about its humour or intelligence. The few moments of amusement are supplied by special appearances from the likes of a beloved actor as an emcee for the King's funeral, an SNL star as a racist job recruiter, and a late night host as a news anchor. Eddie and Arsenio, with or without the pasty makeup, are bland at best. With a dull script, the two are not given any opportunity to show off the chemistry that helped the first film soar.
For Eddie, who had a resurgence of the best kind after Dolemite is My Name (also by Craig Brewer) and that Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live appearance, Coming 2 America was not right way to go.