The nostalgia for everything related to the 1980s has been in high gear in recent years, popping up in everything from Netflix’s Stranger Things, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and reboots of multiple ‘80s properties. Now, on the heels of the return to the Bill & Ted franchise with the original actors, comes the long-awaited sequel to Coming to America, appropriately titled Coming 2 America.
Thirty-three years after the original, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of Zamunda is still married to Lisa (Shari Headley), and he now has three daughters, Meeka (Kiki Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy), and Tinashe (Akiley Love), which puts a crimp in the tradition of having a male heir inherit the throne. Akeem’s ailing father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), surprisingly informs him that he conceived a son during his initial trip to America, sending him on a trip back to Queens to find his son and bring him back to his rightful home.
While the plot involving the son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), starts off promising enough with hilarious introductions of Lavelle’s mom (Leslie Jones) and uncle (Tracy Morgan), things devolve upon the return to Zamunda. Fans of the original film will find some striking similarities in the two films' plots, with Lavelle traveling almost exactly the same road as Akeem, but in reverse.
Directed by Craig Brewer, who also helmed Murphy’s Dolemite is My Name, and written by Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Kenya Barris, the film offers plenty of callbacks to the first film but little of substance for the sequel to stand on its own. Instead of finding an interesting way to involve Akeem’s three daughters, the story falls back on most of the same jokes that it made the first time around.
That’s not to say that those things aren’t funny, but there’s only so much pleasure to be had out of rehashing McDowell’s/McDonald’s jokes or seeing Murphy and Arsenio Hall pull quadruple duty as multiple characters. They do some things right, though, including giving Jones and Morgan room to roam, a lavish scene that involves cameos by Morgan Freeman, En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa, and Gladys Knight, and multiple appearances by Trevor Noah as a Zamundan newscaster.
But those pleasurable moments are few and far between, with most scenes sticking to elements that involve very little effort for either the filmmakers or the audience. On the plot side, it seems like the filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it too, giving lip service to Meeka and her ambitions while still focusing on the antiquated story about Lavelle. Lavelle is shown to be conflicted about his new role, but the approach of the film never sells this aspect.
Murphy (and, to a lesser degree, Hall) is obviously the main draw, and much like the film as a whole, his presence is enjoyable but not impactful. Akeem is not as over-the-top as some of his other roles, and seeing him as a dad makes him recede even more. The filmmakers missed a real opportunity in not giving Layne, who impressed in both If Beale Street Could Talk and The Old Guard, more to do, as she’s much more dynamic than Fowler.
Coming 2 America is far from a disaster, but it doesn’t deliver anything more than surface fun for those who still remember and love the original film. Nostalgia has its place, but it needs to be complemented by something new and meaningful, and that part is all but missing here.
Coming 2 America is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.