One of the pastimes that my brother and I share is our mutual love for rom-coms, which, in my opinion, is the highest form of movie escapism. If I had a bad week at work, or wasn’t in the best head space, indulging in a rom-com would make my troubles weigh a little less. So last year, I introduced him to the world of Eddie Murphy rom-coms, movies like Boomerang and of course, Coming to America. That movie was before his time, yet he was able to take such delight in it, and I was reminded of why it’s one of my top few rom-coms.
The humour comes from Prince Akeem (Murphy) being a fish out of water, having travelled to America from Zamunda, but the romance was as centre-stage as the comedy was, and despite the fact that our main character was a Prince, the storyline and themes felt relatable. We have all struggled with exerting our own sense of agency in the face of family traditions and duty, and come to truly admire Akeem’s strong sense of principles and gentlemanly grace (especially in contrast to Arsenio Hall’s Semmi’s womanising ways). The film also tackled the idea of wealth and class, since Akeem was hiding his identity as a Prince and was earning minimum wage at McDowell’s, and before his deception was discovered, both he and Semmi got a taste of life on the other side of things.
This sequel doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, which doesn’t irk me since sequels are somewhat repetitive. The issue here is that it couldn’t even copy the first film well enough. All the humour and heart from the original is nowhere to be found here. The spark between Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley) no longer exists (they feel like strangers rather than a couple who spent 30 years together), Murphy and Hall don’t even get many scenes together, and that pairing was the strongest part of the first film. Instead, the focus is on Akeem finding the son he conceived out of wedlock with Leslie Jones’ Mary to be his heir, so the protagonist of sorts in this film is Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler).
Fowler, however, has none of the charm that Murphy has by the truckloads. He has some outlandish tasks to accomplish to become a Prince and heir to the throne of Zamunda, but there’s nothing funny about any of it. Lavelle also gets the same love story narrative, which can never be as impactful as Akeem’s because he didn’t grow up as a royal. Having to rally against years of tradition versus like a few months of assimilation isn’t exactly a parallel situation.
Then there’s the whole gender plot point, with Akeem going all the way to America to find his son because he needed a man to be his heir, despite having three daughters and an eldest daughter Mika (KiKi Layne) to inherit the throne. How is it that someone as progressive as Akeem would be so quick to count his daughter out in the name of tradition? After all, he didn’t raise them based on stereotypes, seeing as how all three are skilled in combat. You could say he was facing pressure from his father (James Earl Jones), and in wanting to please him, suppressed his true nature and feelings. But the film never worked through all these conflicting sentiments in an organic way, with Akeem’s actions and decisions all in service to the plot, as opposed to a proper sense of characterisation.
The film’s only saving grace are the musical numbers, but not even Gladys Knight and the return of Sexual Chocolate are enough to distract me from the trainwreck that is this film. Oh yeah, and Wesley Snipes is pretty alright as General Izzi, but that’s as complimentary as I am able to get.
Review screener provided.
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