Thursday, March 11, 2021

Film Review: Coming 2 America


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Mature

For the first few minutes, Coming 2 America seems to live up the promise of its predecessor with lots of laughs and nostalgic fun.  But then it makes the same mistake that the Star Wars sequels made:

It put the interesting characters in the back seat and focused on the new, less interesting ones.

Coming 2 America takes place 31 years after the events of the original Coming to America.  Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) has been living an idyllic royal life with his American wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy), and Tinashe (Akiley Love).  However, all is not well in Zamunda because of the constant threat of General Izzi (a fantastic Wesley Snipes) leader of the violent country next door, Nexdoria.  Akeem's ailing father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) points out that the law of Zamunda that only a male heir can take the throne.  The king warns his son that because of this, Akeem will be most likely assassinated soon after the king's rapidly approaching death.  But Akeem is told that he actually has an illegitimate son back in Queens.  Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) is a 30-year-old hustler who is trying to do something more with his life.  Akeem decides to bring Lavelle to Zamunda and have him take his rightful place as crown prince.

The first act is a great deal of fun.  The addition of General Izzi makes for a nice sense of tension and conflict that was missing from the first.  The humor is absolutely absurd in the best possible way.  King Jaffe has them throw a funeral for him before he dies and they eulogize him with lines like "With the passing of the great king, the world changed forever.  When he died, no one ever smiled again.  Vacations were canceled.  Holidays ignored.  People didn't even have sex anymore."  All the while there are plenty of pop culture throwbacks to the late 1980's.

But all of that fun and good will begin to evaporate after this point.  

First of all, the performances are nowhere near as good as they were in the first.  Murphy's Akeem in Coming to America was always regal and dignified.  He had a presence to him (even when he was being incredibly silly) that had poise and respectability.  His Akeem in Coming 2 America is basically one of his late-career family comedy characters but with a Zamundan accent.  Layne's Meeka is supposed to be a regal and commanding presence, but all of the daughters never come off as more than caricatures of royalty.  Leslie Jones plays Lavelle's mother and even though she was the funniest part of the 2016 Ghostbusters she is awful in this.  If the daughters are one-dimensional, then Jones' character lacks any dimension.  Tracy Morgan plays her brother and even though he is also one-note, he knows how to maximize the laughs.  Hall doesn't have much to do, even in his impressions.  John Amos has a small but memorable turn as Akeem's father-in-law.  Besides him the only people who really stand out are Headly, who plays the part of an American queen perfectly, and Snipes, who uses every ounce of his charisma to play his Izzi so over the top that you really cannot take your eyes off of him.

Speaking of charisma, the movie shifts focus from Akeem to Lavelle fairly early on and this is an incredibly unwise decision.  Fowler does a fair job, but he doesn't hold a candle to Murphy.  In the same way that Disney thought we wanted to spend more time with Rey than Luke, Coming 2 America thinks that it can pass the torch from Akeem to Lavelle.  But clearly in both cases, this is a mistake.  Honestly, Lavelle's story is predictable and boring.  His romance with royal hairdresser Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) carries with it no sweet surprises.  

The movie has an odd lecturing tone to it.  The original one also had the theme that times must and always do change, but the sequel beats you over the head with it.  From the first instance, it is clear that Meeka is being set up as the true heir to the throne.  She is effortlessly the best fighter and the smartest person in the room in every scene.  The film also feels like it constantly has to make commentary on each scene so that we in the audience don't miss the message.  At one point Mirembe points out that Reverand Brown is a sexist preacher.  Anyone who saw the first movie could see that Brown was a sexist, but the movie insists that it TELL you how to interpret the characters rather than let their bad behavior speak for itself.  This keeps happening throughout the film to the point where it sometimes feels like you have to sit back and settle in for a sermon than a piece of entertainment.  What seems odd to me is that a movie that is insistent on the power and presence of women does not let Princess Lisa speak in the ENTIRE FIRST ACT.  

I was concerned about the concept of the film from the start because Akeem having an illegitimate son would retcon him into a completely different person than we saw in the original.  The movie side-steps this with an explanation that maintains his morality, but it is rather silly.  Akeem himself seems like a shadow of his former regal self.  In fact, he seemed more kingly in the first movie.  The movie made me think of something I heard recently about those who are clamoring for more progress; those who make progressive change are soon looked at as obstacles to the next generations reforms.  And that is what we see in Akeem.  Whereas the first movie saw him as progressive, this movie sees him as a relic that must be dispensed with.

This is a movie that I wish was better.  It has all the potential in it to be good and the first act lives up to it.  But when the movie chooses to have Akeem leave center-stage and replace him with a group of uncharismatic, uninteresting lecturers, the movie loses all of its charm.

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