Almost three decades after the original proved itself an unexpected cult classic, COMING 2 AMERICA feels like an awkward family reunion. At its best, the second chapter of the Zamundan comedy saga is uninspired but harmless, happy to repeat poorly aged fan-favorites of yesteryear. At worst, it’s a showcase for dated transphobia and sexism from a pair of comedians stuck in a rut.
Eddie Murphy returns as Akeem, the freshly crowned king of Zamunda, whose borders come under siege by General Izzy’s forces of Nextdoria. With only weeks to go before Izzy’s threats of war come to fruition. The only way out is by siring a son, something Akeem has failed to do, and propose marriage between the two nations. Luckily, it turns out that during his last visit to America, Akeem was date-raped by a loudmouth from Queens (Leslie Jones), who got pregnant from the encounter. Once again, Akeem travels to America to set his future on a new path.
Aged like fine yoghurt
Let’s start with the obvious here. Hanging the leading hook of your comedy film on jokes about rape is never, ever a good idea. Apparently, nobody told Murphy, who goes full hog with this repetition, bringing up the gag multiple times throughout the picture. Not content with that, the sequel also dredges up the already then dated transphobia, giggling to itself over Arsenio Hall’s insistent drag performance.
Granted, much of the resulting humor all veer towards the progressive, but it never finds stable or nuanced ground to build on. The gags are still inherently mean, which, at twenty, worked better for Murphy’s man-child of a prince. But now, at the better side of fifty, feel like a severe case of arrested development. Even the conclusion feels like it belongs to a different era. There’s no other explanation for a celebration of something as trite as the “women are people, too” revelation we see here.
Equal opportunity offender
The same faux-feminism (fauxminism?) extends to a reverse gag regarding the royal cleaner of nether-regions. But even here, the PG-13 film fails to deliver, cringing at the mere thought of saying vagina out loud. The childish nudity and leering may be gone, but COMING 2 AMERICA is still happy to relegate women as objects of purity and desire. Their sexuality is for the men, anything else is either a joke or a threat.
It’s not like Murphy is an icon for progressive humor to begin with, but his films prove he’s capable of great compassion and joy when he wants to. How this return to the bitterness of his youth came to pass is a mystery.
Elsewhere, COMING 2 AMERICA has all the downfalls of every long-gestating sequel that few desired. The jokes that don’t offend are just dated, which is what happens when you develop a project for thirty years. There are pop-song dance numbers, McDonald’s licensing gags, and a truly, horrendously timed and delivered one-liner about the BLM movement. This, too, comes from Murphy, whose blunt barbershop caricature blurts out at one point: “I wish there were another riot; I want a new flat-screen TV.”
It’s impossible to say how much any of this is malicious and what parts are just tone-deaf, but in a product as clearly calculated as COMING 2 AMERICA, one would think someone had run this past a focus group.
A waste of a good cast
These stumbles would be far easier to ignore if the cast wasn’t so talented. Murphy, in particular, doesn’t do much of anything with his part. Gone is the sparkle from his eye, and nowhere is his penchant for physical comedy or motor-mouthed bravado on display anymore. He’s as charismatic as ever, but the whole thing feels like a chore rather than a passion project. Even the blooper reel is joyless.
Izzy, played with relish by Wesley Snipes, is one of the few highpoints of the film, with Snipes immediately understanding the kind of movie this is. His posturing and preening are egregious and scenery-chewing, but it’s in service of the one new memorable character.
Again, the jokes aren’t hugely witty (Nextdoria is about as creative as it gets), and some material is downright distasteful. Things get particularly egregious as the film settles for casual pan-African stereotyping of child soldiers and an ignorant nation copying American fads twenty years too late. But Snipes tries his best, channeling his delightfully camp turn from DOLEMITE IS MY NAME from the previous year.
On the other hand, Leslie Jones is wasted in a terrible stereotype of a role which underutilizes all of her natural talents. Her part is just as over-the-top as Snipes’, but for whatever reason, none of the good zingers go her way. Where Snipes is allowed wit and snark, Jones is refused a chance at her signature putdowns. It’s such a waste.
You can’t go home again
After the brilliant and heartwarming DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, I had higher expectations from director Craig Brewer and Murphy. They make a great team, but the material just isn’t there this time. There are the occasional laughs, like how Izzy’s henchmen introduce him as “the inspiration for Mufasa!” But overall, COMING 2 AMERICA is two hours of film over what amounts to an SNL reunion.
As a bit, it might have worked for a quick nostalgic get-together. As a film, it feels like a victory lap nobody wanted to take.