Review: 'Coming 2 America' not worth the return trip
Sequel to Eddie Murphy's 1988 comedy rehashes old jokes, brings nothing new to the table
In his best work, there's a light on behind Eddie Murphy's eyes, a twinkle that reminds viewers of his extraordinary gifts. We last saw it in "Dolemite is My Name," the legendary comedian's lively 2019 biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, and it's there during "Coming to America," Murphy's beloved 1988 comedy about an African prince who comes to the USA looking for love.
There's of course been a whole lot of times when that light has been off, and that's the unfortunate case with "Coming 2 America," the unfocused sequel that arrives 33 years after the original comedy classic. Murphy is an open book, and he can't hide his indifference with this rehash that trots out nods and callbacks to its predecessor like an "SNL" recurring character coming out, saying his catchphrase and taking a bow. Sexual Chocolate, Soul Glo, McDowell's? It's all here. But this Greatest Hits parade is otherwise tired, and in Murphy's eyes, it shows.
Murphy is back as Akeem Joffer, the prince of Zamunda, now a proud father of three daughters with his Queens-bred bride, Lisa (Shari Headley). With his father Jaffe (James Earl Jones) ailing, Akeem is in a bind over finding an heir to his throne, since he doesn't have a son to whom he can hand down his crown.
Ah, but he does have a son! It turns out that during that fateful trip to America all those years ago, Akeem's pal and trusted sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall) slipped him a little something while they were partying, and when he was out of it, Akeem hooked up with — and impregnated — Mary Junson (Leslie Jones). Mary is now raising their boy, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), in Queens, so of course Akeem and Semmi head back to America to inform Lavelle of his rightful place as heir to Zamunda's throne, and bring him (and his mother, and his uncle, played by Tracy Morgan) back to Zamunda to prepare him for his destiny.
If the premise sounds convoluted, it's matched by director Craig Brewer's ("Dolemite is My Name") flat execution, which presents several big set pieces — including a performance by Salt N' Pepa and an elaborate dance sequence set to Prince's "Gett Off" — but doesn't do anything with them besides use them as time fillers. Meanwhile, the flimsy screenplay (a team of four writers came up with the story and script) focuses on Lavelle and his chemistry-free love affair with his groomer, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), which leaves Murphy's Akeem off screen for long passages of time.
Murphy does reprise several roles from the first film, including the chorus of New York barbershop employees, and Hall plays multiple characters as well. But his spark is gone, as is the spark of the original film. Murphy was beaming throughout the first "Coming to America," and his character's naivete was the engine that powered it, giving it a core of sweetness even underneath its hard-R veneer. ("Coming 2 America" is notably less raunchy than the first film — the swear words and nudity have been scrubbed clean — but the lack of edge makes it feel saccharine.)
At least Wesley Snipes is having fun. As General Izzi, the leader of Zamunda's neighboring country, Nextdoria (its name one of the movie's few good jokes), Snipes is lithe, flamboyant and wildly charismatic. The actor is still trying to work his way back into Hollywood's good graces following his prison stint on tax charges, and he has to prove himself all over again. Murphy doesn't. These days, he needs a project to excite him in order for him to come alive, and the results in "Coming 2 America," sadly, speak for themselves.
'Coming 2 America'
Rated PG-13: for crude and sexual content, language and drug content
Running time: 109 minutes
On Amazon Prime Video