If you took a poll of movie fans and asked them to name the one movie from a generation ago most deserving of a sequel, my bet is “Coming to America” would be near or at the top of the list — and I’m pleased to report the long-awaited, much-anticipated, will-it-ever-happen, heavily hyped “Coming 2 America” is just as gloriously funny and wonderful and gold-hearted as the original. It’s the kind of comedy with a “repeatability factor” that will have you making plans to see it again before the closing credits even finish rolling.*
With director Craig Brewer and the production team seamlessly capturing the look and feel of the John Landis-directed original from 1989 while infusing the sequel with even more lavish production numbers featuring amazingly creative costumes, “Coming 2 America” picks up in present day, with the kingdom of Zamunda prospering under the all-powerful, all-knowing rule of the one and only King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones). (As was the case with the first movie, we don’t see much of Zamunda outside the palace, but what a palace it is.)
Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem is happily married to the former Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley, looking amazing and turning in a wonderful performance), and they have three beautiful, smart and modern princess daughters. Meeka (KiKi Layne) is the oldest, followed by Omma (Bella Murphy, real-life daughter of Eddie) and little Tinashe (Akiley Love). And although some 30 years have passed, palace life hasn’t changed that much, as evidenced by the presence of such familiar and friendly faces as Akeem’s best friend and trusty aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and the stone-faced, sweet-voiced manservant Oha (Paul Bates). Why, even the Rose Bearer Priestess (Garcelle Beauvais) is still there.
Also unchanged through the years: the outdated, sexist traditions of Zamunda, where only a male heir can ascend to the throne. This will be a problem down the line for Akeem. Ah, but with only a short time to live, King Jaffe reveals some shocking news (which will not come as a shock to anyone who has seen the trailers): Akeem has a son! A son in … America!
Before you can say, “That’s a clever but problematic way to jump-start the plot,” Akeem and Semmi have taken the royal jet back to New York, in order to track down one Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), the biological son of the prince and thus the only rightful successor to the throne. We didn’t see Akeem romancing anyone other than Lisa during his first trip to the States and he didn’t seem like a one-night stand kind of guy — so without getting into details, let’s just say the screenplay has devised a cringe-inducing but I suppose barely plausible explanation for Lavelle’s conception. The important thing is, it provides the excuse to introduce Leslie Jones as Lavelle’s mother, Mary, and Tracy Morgan as his uncle, Reem, and they’re both as flat-out funny as you’d expect them to be. (Added bonus: The trip to America means we get to revisit the My-T-Sharp barber shop and all those wisecracking old-timers, two played by Murphy, one by Hall and one by the terrific Clint Smith.)
“Coming 2 America” is really “Coming to Zamunda,” as the bulk of the story takes place in Akeem’s homeland, with Lavelle undergoing the rigorous and sometimes ridiculously hilarious vetting process to become prince, even as Akeem’s eldest daughter Meeka demonstrates time and again she has the fighting skills, the bravery, the intelligence and the compassion to one day rule Zamunda. We’re also treated to the expected culture-clash comedy sequences involving the extroverted Mary and Reem and their wild antics. And for added comedic measure, Wesley Snipes is fantastically over the top as one General Izzi, the leader of Nextdoria and the older brother of poor Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway), Akeem’s former intended bride who apparently went into some sort of near-catatonic state and is still barking like a dog all these years later, eeeesh.
At times the comedic feast is almost too much of a good thing, as plots and subplots zig this way and that, and the screenplay juggles the bounty of beloved returning characters — including Hall’s Rev. Brown and Murphy’s Randy Watson, not to mention the great John Amos as Cleo McDowell and even Louie Anderson as Maurice, PLUS the Junson family, PLUS some celebrity cameos. But there’s great inspiration to be found in the story of KiKi Layne’s Meeka, who is determined to open her father’s eyes and update his tired old viewpoint, and there’s pure comedic gold in the performances, with Murphy, Hall, Jones and Morgan leading the way. After all these years, the land of Zamunda is still the world capital of comedy.
*About those closing credits: we all have that tendency to check out as soon as the movie is over, especially when it comes to the home viewing experience, but trust me: You’ll want to stick around all the way through the credits for “Coming 2 America.”