Coming 2 America (2021)
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Ruth E. Carter received an Oscar in 2019 for designing Wakanda's fashions. It's only fitting that she would follow that by tightening her stitches on Zamunda's wardrobe, which was first seen in 1988's "Coming to America." Under her masterful guidance, everyone in "Coming 2 America" looks magnificent, from the soon-to-be king, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), to the rose petal-throwing ladies, once again led by Garcelle Beauvais. The end result is hypnotic; you can't take your gaze away from the screen for fear of missing a magnificent pattern or a beautifully designed angle of fabric rising in the air with ferocity. Fashionistas rejoice, because as we say in my old neighborhood, Ruth E. Carter put her foot in it when she designed these outfits.
The costumes worn by Carter are well worth the price of admission. If you are a fan of the original film, just know that once you pay, you will be disappointed with everything else. Since, even though you enjoy this pointless ride back to Zamunda, “Coming 2 America” falls short of its predecessor. Screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield team up with Kenya Barris to hit the same plot beats that made the first film so much fun. Director Craig Brewer does the film no favors by flashing back to scenes from the first, and screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield team up with Kenya Barris to hit the same plot beats that made the first film so much fun.
While a sense of familiarity is always enough to keep a film afloat in a sea of goodwill, some of the plot suggestions are bound to lift a few eyebrows and lower a few eyelids. Another love story against all odds exists, but the lovers are much less compelling and charismatic than Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley). And a sitcom may be doomed if you spend half the time wondering if one of the characters has been sexually assaulted.
According to the movie, Prince Akeem has a son in America whom he has never met. By re-editing the amazing nightclub scene with MC Peaches and that woman who revered the Devil, the filmmakers were able to retrofit this into the original's plot. Semmi (Arsenio Hall) meets Mary Judson (Leslie Jones) and her friend at this club and drags an inebriated Akeem back to Mary's place in an effort to sleep with the friend. Mary gets Akeem so high that he forgets what happened to him, and voilà, the plot device/instant heir is born. If you don't think this is going to inspire a million think pieces, I'd like to sell you a barbershop in Queens.
Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), a 31-year-old struggling to make his way in the world, is the "bastard son," as Akeem refers to him. Since Akeem has three daughters but no sons, whoever marries his eldest daughter Meeka (Kiki Layne) will inherit the throne, as Zamunda has a "Kings Only" rule. King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), Akeem's father, is literally on his deathbed, worried that his only son is so "soft" that "he'll be assassinated in a week" by the leader of Zamunda's rival nation, Nextdoria. General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the brother of Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell Calloway), the woman Akeem was betrothed to in the first film, rules the fabled territory. Yes, she’s still barking like a dog and hopping on one foot.
Izzi's son is a potential match for Meeka, but she refuses to have anything to do with him, resulting in the two kingdoms struggling to unite. This is where Lavelle enters the picture. General Izzi has a daughter, Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), who makes an amazing first appearance in the film. Akeem could marry her if he had a male heir. Akeem drags Semmi back to Queens to pick up Lavelle after Baba (Arsenio Hall) announces the prophecy of a male heir and Semmi confirms it. Once they learn how wealthy Zamunda is, all of the Judsons, including father figure Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan), are willing to buy this mysterious man claiming to be Lavelle's father. Mary has a good recollection of him. If this film had been rated R instead of the punk-ass PG-13 it is, I'm sure this scene would have ended with a visit to "The Maury Show."
When Lavelle arrives in Zamunda, “Coming 2 America” retells the original story by switching the positions of its young protagonist. However, it is ineffective. Queens is a real city, and Akeem's neighborhood was full of characters, locations, and circumstances that Black audiences would recognize. Much of the humor in "Coming to America" came from Akeem's position as a stand-in for the audience, navigating a world we already knew and responding in a bemused, almost innocent manner. Anything in this film's Zamunda is primarily a figment of its screenwriters' imaginations, and as a result, there's a lot of relatable humor missing as a result. Don't get me wrong: considering the man-eating lions (who play a supporting role here), I'd always transfer to Zamunda in a heartbeat—but Lavelle is no Prince Akeem. Fowler lacks the sweetness and excitement that Murphy gave to Queens on his first visit. Lavelle and his family look like they're straight out of a Madea film. So, if I'm not mistaken, this was filmed at Tyler Perry Studios.
There's also a rift between Lavelle and Meeka, who is rightfully enraged that she's being pushed aside in favor of some aimless new sibling she just met, despite all of her preparation and research. Even though you can see the end of Meeka's story arc coming a mile away, the film still forces her to warm up to Lavelle almost instantly and help him take her work. In "Coming 2 America," there's a lot of surface-level "girl power," but it's so shallow that it's an insult to Akeem's daughters. As Meeka eventually unleashes her full powers in a thrilling fight scene, the film's crosscutting between her brother's story takes precedence.
Furthermore, the film devotes much too much time to a love tale that lacks the gravitas of Akeem and Lisa. Despite their best efforts, Fowler and Nomzamo Mbatha are given nothing to work with in order to develop their relationship. Mbatha, in particular, is excellent in the role of Mirembe, but she is unable to sell the partnership. The film claims to be about the women, but they are constantly second fiddle to and supporting the male characters. I kept thinking to myself, "I wonder what's going on at the My-T-Sharp right now?" whenever Lavelle and Mirembe were on screen.
Thankfully, we get an answer to that issue, as Murphy reprises his role as Mr. Clarence, a barbershop B.S. artist. Murphy's Jewish wiseacre, Saul, and Hall and Clint Smith in old man makeup join him once more. They're still arguing over boxing and everything else comes to mind. When it gives us these 2021 callbacks to the people we remember, “Coming 2 America” is at its best—and funniest. A unexpected visit to McDowell's, where Akeem and Cleo (again, played by John Amos) have a conversation that includes a touching tribute to the late Madge Sinclair, is the film's most moving scene.
Eddie Murphy and Wesly Snipes on the Set of Coming 2 America
I wouldn't dare to reveal any of the film's major plot twists because they're everything you have to look forward to here. Those, and Wesley Snipes' results, in which he waltzes into another Eddie Murphy film and steals it in broad daylight with no getaway car. Snipes is well aware that his character is ridiculous, so he plays him bigger than a barn. He enjoys dressing up in Carter's clothes, to the point that you wonder if Snipes didn't bring those outfits from his own wardrobe. General Izzi is not only amusing, but also dangerous, which adds a welcome jolt to the proceedings.
My desert island film is "Coming to America". I've seen it so many times that I can read the dialogue off the top of my head. I've never laughed so hard or heard so much continuous laughter since Daryl's family left those Jheri Curl activator stains on the couch in 1988. It may be argued that this analysis is unfairly harsh on the sequel. However, I agree that if I hadn't seen the original film, I would have had little or no enjoyment from this. I did chuckle, and it was out loud and unapologetically. Unfortunately, there was enough downtime in between those laughs that I began to obsess over a variety of plot issues. Coming 2 America is like going to a high school reunion: you'll enjoy seeing the familiar faces of those with whom you once shared so many happy memories, but you'll quickly remember that the nostalgia of the past is much more satisfying than the harsh realities of the present.