Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 (crude and sexual content, language and drug content). On Amazon Prime.
A sequel to Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy “Coming to America” was always going to be a tall order. The excellent 1988 film featured a remarkable ensemble of famous actors in their prime, and today die-hard fans can recite those jokes like Bible passages.
“Good morning, my neighbors!”
“Hey, f – – k you!”
“F – – k you, too!” Gold.
That continuing devotion is probably why “Coming 2 America” darn near copies its predecessor, down to specific cherished bits: attractive royal servants emerging from the bathtub, Fresh Peaches the rapper, an arranged marriage where the bride-to-be’s favorite food is “whatever you like.” It’s all here in director Craig Brewer’s movie, for better or worse.
And the repetition doesn’t end there. The comedy is once again about a fish-out-of-water man facing a dilemma about his future. But instead of Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) jetting off to Queens, this time a son he did not know existed, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), flies from the New York borough to Zamunda, finally giving Akeem a male heir.
The prince has several daughters, but the laws of Zamunda prohibit the country from having a female leader, leading to a feminist subplot. They’re really gonna make Lavelle, a Madison Square Garden ticket scalper, king over accomplished women?
The best laughs belong to the enthusiastic, easy-to-love Fowler, whose character was working his sleazy trade for his uncle (Tracy Morgan), and especially the ingenious Leslie Jones, who plays his mom Mary. On her first night in the palace, she is perplexed by what’s for dinner.
“Is anybody gonna tell me why these mashed potatoes are black?,” she says.
“It’s caviar,” responds Lisa, still played by Shari Headley.
Jones pounces. “You know, my cousin’s named that!”
Akeem plans to marry his new son off to the daughter of an opportunistic rival (Wesley Snipes), but Lavelle starts to fall for a smart, forward-thinking palace employee instead. Wherever could they have gotten these totally new ideas?
Even with the retreads and overabundance of nostalgia, there’s a lot of joy in seeing so many beloved characters back together. Murphy and Arsenio Hall, who should work far more than he does, are still magic as the My-T-Sharp barbershop guys, the band Sexual Chocolate and the sensual preacher. Also back are James Earl Jones, Louie Anderson and John Amos, among many others.
But a happy reunion can’t re-create the original’s spark, innocence and masterful comedy.
You just can’t compete with the 1988 film’s core setup: an African prince clumsily trying to pass as an NYC student. Remember when Akeem and Semmi first arrive at their disgusting Queens apartment and Murphy smiles broadly at the disgusting rat running around? It’s counterintuitive — and funny — for the rich and powerful to come down to our pathetic level. Rags to riches stories, like the sequel, are much more familiar and therefore less hilarious.
After watching all the ritzy Zamunda palace antics, I wanted to hop in a cab and say, “Take me to the most common part of Queens!”