‘Coming 2 America’ evaluation: Eddie Murphy return not definitely worth the wait

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“Coming 2 America” is the uncommon sequel whose title sounds equivalent to the unique, which stands out as the cleverest factor about it. And in addition essentially the most complicated, sure to throw off anybody attempting to delineate the 2 aloud. You possibly can really delineate fairly simply — attempt “the unique one” and “the awful one,” as an example — however these homophonic titles are oddly becoming. They neatly sum up the extent to which this new film exists in its predecessor’s shadow.

That isn’t horrible or shocking. Few sequels escape these shadows and “Coming to America” (1988) casts a fairly lengthy one, as Eddie Murphy comedies go. Revisiting it just lately for the primary time in many years was an odd expertise, enchanting and deflating by turns. Made when Murphy was at peak stardom, the John Landis-directed romantic comedy performs like a dispatch from a extra harmless period — and in addition, paradoxically, a naughtier, much less inhibited one. You couldn’t make “Coming to America” now, the logic goes, although that’s hardly saved hundreds of thousands from nonetheless having fun with it. For all of the dated, off-key moments in its story of a clueless prince who leaves his fantasy kingdom of Zamunda to search for love in New York, the goofy sincerity of its cross-cultural comedy and the sweetness of its romance stay intact.

Talking of intact: “Coming 2 America” options, amongst different issues, a really public ritual circumcision, essentially the most out-there instance of the script’s beneficiant allotment of genital-attentive humor. Die-hard followers of the unique can be happy to study that these dependable royal bathers are again for a salacious chuckle or two, and the crown jewels play a key position in setting the plot in movement. Not lengthy after the film opens, Murphy’s Prince Akeem Joffer — quickly to succeed his ailing father (James Earl Jones) as king of Zamunda — learns that he fathered a son shortly earlier than he met his future queen, Lisa (Shari Headley), throughout that fateful New York journey.

That Akeem seems to have been the sufferer of a drug-enabled sexual assault is shortly laughed off — or brushed apart, moderately, given the script’s dismal ratio of precise to theoretical laughs — as he and his closest confidant, Semmi (Arsenio Corridor), return to the scene of their Queens gambit and find the illegitimate inheritor. Zamunda could also be fabulously superior, however its legal guidelines of succession are as antiquated as Downton Abbey’s: Solely a person can rule, which is unhealthy information for Akeem and Lisa’s three daughters, Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy, Eddie’s real-life daughter) and Tinashe (Akiley Love), all sensible students and warriors within the best Zamundan custom.

Against this, Akeem’s long-lost son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), who’s shortly embraced with nary a paternity take a look at, seems to be an under-employed goofball who might hardly be much less certified for the throne. And so “Coming 2 America” unimaginatively reverses the fish-out-of-water components: As a substitute of the wide-eyed Zamundan naif bellowing salutary expletives on a fireplace escape, we get the street-smart New Yorker gobsmacked by his new palatial digs. (We additionally get the rambunctious Ugly American duo of Lavelle’s mother and uncle who, as performed by Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan respectively, waste no time offending each delicate royal sensibility.) Life isn’t all enjoyable and video games, although: Lavelle must show his price by tussling with a lion and mastering a crash course in Zamundan historical past. In the meantime, stressed-out Akeem should juggle the obligations of a brand new son, the resentment of his spouse and daughters and the looming risk of an indignant neighboring warlord (Wesley Snipes).

Murphy and Snipes notably did terrific, career-rejuvenating work collectively in final yr’s “Dolemite Is My Identify,” whose director, Craig Brewer, additionally made this film. Each have the slick, considerably nameless watchability that has change into the director’s aesthetic signature and in each you sense the actors probably had fun on the set, feeding off one another’s rhythms and relishing the heft and element of magnificently multi-hued costumes (designed in each circumstances by Ruth E. Carter, a latest Oscar winner for “Black Panther”). Every now and then, “Coming 2 America” stirs to life, particularly when it goes full-on musical pageant and permits a stream of performers, together with Salt-N-Pepa and Gladys Knight, to take heart stage in lavish numbers choreographed by Fatima Robinson.

However these moments are few and much between and too little of that infectious good-time vitality extends past the parameters of the display and into the viewers. The dearth of a correct viewers doesn’t assist: “Coming 2 America” would seem like the sufferer of spectacularly wretched timing, having waited 33 years to be born solely to see its authentic theatrical distributor, Paramount Photos, flip it over to Amazon Studios for a princely sum as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe a few of this film’s jokes would kill on the massive display moderately than merely expiring as they did on my laptop computer. In a packed home, the viewers would possibly guffaw knowingly on the shoutouts to traditional bits (McDowell’s! Bark like a canine!) and burst into applause at each acquainted face.

Look, it’s Paul Bates! And John Amos! Is that Samuel L. Jackson? (No, alas.) However that’s positively Louie Anderson! And Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Corridor and Arsenio Corridor! I’m referring, in fact, to the film’s compulsory Queens barbershop reunion, the place a prosthetics-slathered Murphy and Corridor dispense antediluvian wisecracks about race, gender identification and sexual harassment solely to grouse about how in these too-sensitive instances, you’ll be able to’t get away with saying every little thing they simply received away with saying.

That sounds reactionary, however “Coming 2 America” is both too timid (it’s rated PG-13) or too lazy to muster a coherent political stand in both course. The script (by Kenya Barris and returning screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield) makes an attempt to please anybody and everybody: It’s as extravagant an act of fan service, in its approach, because the final “Star Wars” film, up to date with the newest in mainstream-comedy defaults. (Incessant repetition of phrases that aren’t that humorous to start with? Verify. Wink-wink meta-banter concerning the inadvisability of sequels? Verify.) The film tries to compensate for its unapologetic royalism with hand-wringing concerning the Zamundan patriarchy however stops in need of making its feminine characters too attention-grabbing or distinctive. (Nomzamo Mbatha comes closest as Mirembe, a royal groomer who turns into Lavelle’s pal and love curiosity.)

Akeem is each the upholder of that patriarchy and the one one able to dismantle it. If “Coming 2 America” principally flails as comedy, it’s not with out curiosity as a portrait of middle-aged burnout and compromise. After his joyous work in “Dolemite,” Murphy principally straitjackets his ordinary ebullience in a approach that seems like one other throwback: Various critics rejected “Coming to America” again in 1988, in any case, with a few of them discovering Murphy too tamped down after the sturdy comedian showcases of “Buying and selling Locations” and the “Beverly Hills Cop” motion pictures. Thirty-three years later, that restraint feels extra like inertia with Akeem extra stranded than ever between his misplaced idealism and his father’s authoritarianism. He’s endlessly out of step with the instances as one in all his daughters reminds him when she bans an already outdated phrase from his vocabulary.

“Actually?” he says, somewhat crestfallen. “I moderately loved being on fleek.” Certainly.

‘Coming 2 America’

Rated: PG-13, for crude and sexual content material, language and drug content material

Working time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Taking part in: Out there March 5 on Amazon Prime Video

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