It seems like within the past decade, sequels to classic comedies have become more commonplace. Comedy classics like Anchorman, Zoolander, and Borat have all received sequels whether fans were asking for them or not. Most of them are never able to step out of the shadows of their originators. Sometimes they fail spectacularly. It’s rare that you have sequels like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm that actually surpass the original. So which category does Comedy 2 America fall in?
The original was one of the best comedies of the late 80s and one of the best movies Eddie Murphy has ever made. It’s highly quotable and still gets a laugh out of me every single time, thanks to an onslaught of hilarious scenes and moments. There’s just something about the unique chemistry in that film between Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and the myriad of characters they encounter while visiting New York City. Trying to capture that magic twice was always going to be difficult, if not impossible.
I’ll cut to the chase though; no, Coming 2 America is not better than the original movie. It was going to be a hard task no matter what, but the film does fall short of the original in many different ways. However, it is still pretty damn funny.
Coming 2 America
Director: Craig Brewer
Release Date: March 5, 2021 (Amazon Prime)
30 years have passed since Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) traveled to America and married Lisa (Shari Headley). Akeem is still the prince, but not for long as his father (James Earle Jones) is on his deathbed. Before he passes, he reveals to Akeem that he has a son in America and he must travel there to meet him in order to secure him as heir to the throne of Zamunda since his three daughters can’t take the throne due to the patriarchy being the patriarchy. He’s on a short time limit though because if he does not return quickly, he’ll be assassinated by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the leader of Zamunda’s rival nation Nextdoria, who wants to enact revenge on Akeem for “cursing” his sister to hop on one leg and bark like a dog for 30 years (brilliant motivation and callback to the original by the way).
It’s a pretty basic excuse for Murphy and crew to go back to America and revel in plenty of old references. In fact, most of the first third of the movie is front-loaded with references from the original, sometimes just outright reusing footage. Nearly every joke from the first movie appears in some shape or form, ranging from a Zamundian branch of McDowell’s, the barbers returning, a Sexual Chocolate performance, it’s all here. The only thing that was missing was a Soul Glow commercial for old time’s sake.
Now one can call this a retread, and it is. It’s a blatant retread of the original movie and all of the jokes that made it work. It’s almost shameless how often the movie cooks up any excuse to give us callbacks and direct retreads of jokes from the original. But a few elements help it work in its favor. First, the jokes and set-up are still funny even after all these years. You can never not make me laugh at the barbers in the barbershop and I’ve always imagined what it would be like to be a fly on the wall in their shop.
Then you have that even when some of the original jokes are reused, they’re never just winking references to the original and nothing else. Sure, some of them don’t land and feel forced, particularly the callbacks made to Zamundan culture, but for the most part, the new twists are appreciated. But what’s most important is that Coming 2 America at least attempts some new jokes so its humor doesn’t deride entirely from the original film.
These pop up in the second half of the movie where the action shifts from Queens back to Zamunda and we really get a look at Zamundan culture in the modern-day. Some of these jokes do feel pretty standard, like Akeem learning how to walk like a pimp or picking up some of the new hip lingo that all of the youths are saying. Thankfully, some of them are fresh and exciting, like when Akeem’s son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) at one point has to undergo a test of courage that had me laughing throughout the entire scene. When it wants to be funny, it can be funny, and Murphy and Hall still earn plenty of laughs when they’re bouncing off of each other or playing one of their numerous side-characters.
Speaking of returning characters, nearly all of the original cast comes back for another round, slipping right back into their original roles like they never left. I was shocked to see John Amos in particular since I could have sworn he was dead, but to my pleasant surprise, he’s thankfully not and still has that classic McDowell attitude. The new additions to the cast also add some much-needed energy, featuring comedians like Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, and Trevor Noah. They’re not particularly memorable, but they bounce off with the main cast well enough and never distract from the main talent.
The problem that films like Coming 2 America will eventually run into is just how well it holds up on replays. It’s too soon to tell given that the movie only just released today, but I don’t see myself thinking on Coming 2 America as much as the original. The movie definitely looks better with several lavish sets and some excellent costume work, but it’s missing a lot of the soul of the original too. Making it a fish out of water story for Akeem made us relate to him more and contrasting his wide-eyed optimism with a late 80s Queens always was a delight. You physically could not hate the man, with his kindness serving as the perfect comic foil to the cynicism of New York.
Here, Akeem is older, more stuck-up, and a lot of that youthful energy is gone. It makes sense since over 30 years have passed between the original and the sequel, but Eddie Murphy just doesn’t have that same spark that he used to. He’s more of a side-character this time with Lavelle taking center stage for most of the film. That’s fine and good, but Lavelle doesn’t feel as developed as Akeem was in the original. His motivation and personality change so much over the course of the film that it’s hard to really get a real attachment to him, while Murphy just stands off to the side and observes for most of the 100-minute runtime. When the two do interact, it’s mostly awkward humor that doesn’t really amount to much more than a chuckle.
Coming 2 America isn’t going to replace the original anytime soon, but it’s fun and enjoyable. It has plenty of crass humor that you don’t see as often as from the late 80s and early 90s. Some people are definitely going to say that it’s politically incorrect or enforces negative stereotypes, and while we can most definitely have some in-depth discussion on that later on (yes, politically incorrect humor still has a place in film), the argument is kind of moot because it’s still funny. It never feels offensive or degrading and instead comes across like the original cast getting together and having fun.
It’s easy to tell when a sequel is cynically made to try and prey on nostalgia. Tons of reboots and sequels do that, but Coming 2 America never gave off that impression. It’s nothing outstanding, but it’s a solid comedy that had me laughing and I can easily see myself introducing it to a group of friends for a movie night. If you’re a fan of the original movie, you’ll like this sequel just fine.