Review: 'Coming 2 America' might not break the mould, but it doesn't disappoint

The Eddie Murphy comedy feels like a welcome catch-up with old friends

Eddie Murphy, left, and Arsenio Hall appear in a scene from "Coming 2 America." (Quantrell D. Colbert/Paramount Pictures via AP)
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Coming 2 America

Directed by: Craig Brewer

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones

3/5 stars

In 1988, at the height of his comic powers, Eddie Murphy made Coming to America. Much sweeter and more soulful than his usual raucous outings, Murphy played Prince Akeem, of the fictional African nation of Zamunda, who comes to New York to find his bride.

Now, 33 years later, we have the long-awaited sequel – a film that feels like a welcome reunion with Akeem, his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and the other characters who populated the original.

Zamunda has been a prosperous nation since Akeem returned to marry Lisa (Shari Headley), who has since sired him three daughters. But, with his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) on his deathbed, Akeem discovers that he has a son – back in New York.

Cue one of the film’s most innovative moments, a flashback to the bar scene in the original where Akeem and Semmi are essentially speed-dating their way through various marital candidates.

One of them – not seen in the first film – is Mary (Leslie Jones), who had a son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), after seducing Akeem.

With Zamunda threatened by a neighbouring country – run by Wesley Snipes’s highly over-the-top warlord – Akeem must return to New York, find Lavelle and bring him home.

The plan is tutor him to behave like a prince, to help bring stability to the kingdom. Accompanying Lavelle is Mary, who is soon enjoying the benefits of royal living, and his combustible Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan), who rubs everyone the wrong way.

In many ways, it’s a reverse fish-out-of-water story to the original, with a great deal more set in Zamunda. The livewire Jones brings a fresh and much-needed streetwise energy to the story, and there are some amusing set-pieces as Lavelle must complete a series of princely tasks – including stealing whiskers from a lion.

The story feels more contemporary, too, with Akeem's eldest daughter (If Beale Street Could Talk star KiKi Layne) campaigning to ditch her nation's antiquated sexist laws.

Coming 2 America is patently aware of the expectations placed on it. At one point, Lavelle gets into a conversation about Hollywood sequels. "If something is good, why ruin it?"

Certainly, nothing’s been “ruined” here, even if the story is effectively a remix of the original. Great care has been taken to bring back even the most minor characters – Maurice (Louie Anderson), for example, is still working for Lisa’s father Cleo (John Amos) at his fast-food chain McDowell’s (now franchised in Zamunda).

Of course, the real highlight is seeing Murphy and Hall take on multiple characters, as they did in the original, under swathes of prosthetics. There is a return to My-T-Sharp, the grotty barbershop in Queens (once again, Murphy plays both Clarence, the barber, and Saul, a fellow who sits and chit-chats with them). Hall even takes on an additional role – Baba, a shaman-like figure, who is the one who first informs Akeem of his son through a vision.

Arsenio Hall, from left, Kevin T. DeWitt and Eddie Murphy appear in a scene from "Coming 2 America." (Quantrell D. Colbert/Paramount Pictures via AP)
Eddie Murphy, right, reprises his role as Clarence the barber in 'Coming 2 America'. AP

While the original was directed by John Landis, who had previously made Trading Places with Murphy, the sequel is in the hands of Craig Brewer, who came to this fresh off Dolomite in my Name, easily the best new Murphy vehicle in years.

Brewer keeps to the spirit of the original. At times it even feels like a musical, with some real choice cameos – even through to the end credits. Could some of the characters, like Snipes’s, be better underdeveloped? Could it be funnier? Yes.

But there's nothing cynical about Coming 2 America; there's something highly pleasurable about catching up with Akeem and his pals.

Coming 2 America is available on Amazon Prime Video now

Coming 2 America

Directed by: Craig Brewer

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones

3/5 stars