by Rob DiCrisitino
It’s easy to forget that John Landis’ Coming to America was arguably the last we got of Peak Eddie Murphy, the final entry in a decade’s worth of memorable outings that cemented his place as one of the era’s (era’s) most powerful pop cultural forces. By 1988, Murphy had perfected the star persona honed in 48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop, and Trading Places, but the dog days and Harlem Nights were not far away. Landis, too, was mired in creative and commercial malaise, licking his wounds after a string of box office bombs and legal complications due to the Twilight Zone tragedy. Revisiting Coming to America in 2021 feels a bit like watching two veteran pitchers throw their best fastballs, confident in their delivery if not in their waning velocity.
Still, it’s fertile ground for a sequel, bringing us to the frustratingly-if-predictably titled Coming 2 America (Seriously, how are we supposed to distinguish between them in conversation?). Murphy returns as Prince Akeem Joffer of Zamunda, who is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of his wedding to Lisa (Shari Headley) alongside their three daughters (KiKi Layne, Bella Murphy, and Akiley Love). Familiar faces return, including Arsenio Hall as Akeem’s friend and advisor, Semmi, James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer, and John Amos as Lisa’s father, Cleo McDowell. Though Zamunda has prospered in the past three decades, neighboring warlord General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) and his armies sense weakness in Akeem’s rule, as he has no male heir to continue his dynasty.
From there, director Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan, Dolemite is My Name) and his gaggle of screenwriters reverse the original movie’s fish-out-of-water structure, as Lavelle learns what it means to be a Prince of Zamunda. All your favorite Coming to America jokes and side characters make comebacks, as well, with Snipes and Jones in particular adding fresh dynamics to a familiar story. Knowing full well that legacy sequels are almost always a desperate miscalculation on the part of aging stars with delicate egos, Murphy and company lean into the absurdity of a Coming to America sequel whenever possible, with Lavelle and royal groomer Mirembe (the outstanding and underused Nomzamo Mbatha) even discussing the lack of creativity in American media as they tip-toe their way towards young love.