Eddie Murphy’s sequel track record has been hit and miss. For every Shrek 2, there’s been Another 48 Hrs. or Beverly Hills Cop III. At least Murphy had the good sense not to do Daddy Day Camp, although he did star in Norbit that same year. Now we get Coming 2 America more than thirty years later. After such a long passage of time, does this follow-up warrant its existence or that pun-tastic title? Granted, the premise is forced and the PG-13 rating puts the film at an immediate disadvantage. Even with these drawbacks, Coming 2 America is funnier and more charming than it has any right to be. The title isn’t entirely accurate, however.
For a film called Coming 2 America, a majority of the film is spent in Zamunda. That’s like making a sequel to Madagascar mostly set in Europe… Okay, bad example, but you get the idea. On the other hand, so many sequels repeat their predecessors beat for beat. Zamunda is a fun location that we didn’t get to see that much of in the first film. By moving the fish out of water story to Akeem Joffer’s stomping ground, the sequel opens itself up to more original ideas. This isn’t to say Coming 2 America doesn’t have formulaic moments. Nevertheless, the film mixes just enough new elements with the old to feel worthy.
Murphy is naturally back as Prince Akeem, who is set to be crowned king as his father’s health deteriorates. Murphy also once again dons the makeup to play barber Clarence, Jewish patron Saul, and soul singer Randy Watson. As many characters as Murphy played, the first film was an ensemble piece rounded out by Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Shari Headley, and Louie Anderson. They’re all back for Coming 2 America, although Samuel L. Jackson’s Hold-Up Man is limited to archived footage. While the first several minutes run the risk of overdosing on callbacks, the sequel starts to develop its own identity with the arrival of Akeem’s bastard son.
It turns out Akeem impregnated a woman during his previous journey to Queens. How did this happen? Well, the explanation is admittedly funny, albeit contrived. Even so, Jermaine Fowler does breathe some new life into the franchise as Lavelle, Akeem’s firstborn. Like most millennials, Lavelle claims that he doesn’t want any handouts… until the right offer is served to him on a silver platter. Akeem thus returns to Zamunda with Lavelle, who’s poised to inherit the throne from his father. The problem is that Lavelle knows nothing about his kingdom, and Akeem has three badass daughters who seem more fit to rule.
Along with Fowler, supporting performances from Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, and especially Wesley Snipes help to distinguish Coming 2 America. While still not as funny as the original, this sequel does capture much of its predecessor’s heart. There is a sincere message here about blended families as Lavelle is slowly accepted by his sisters. The film does retread on familiar territory as Lavelle falls in love with a royal groomer (Nomzamo Mbatha), denying his duty to wed a princess. The chemistry between these two is surprisingly sweet, though, particularly while bonding over the Barbershop franchise.
The filmmakers seem aware that this sequel didn’t need to exist, but Coming 2 America doesn’t come off as a shameless cash grab. Craig Brewer, who previously directed Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, makes a legitimate effort to do right by the OG classic. That said, this sequel needed to be rated R to live up to its full potential. Even over the end credit bloopers, one usage of the f-bomb gets bleeped. Hopefully, Brewer has a director’s cut somewhere. For now, we have a sequel with a well-oiled ensemble, meaningful life lessons, and several laugh-out-loud moments. Just keep in mind that I’m among the select few who unapologetically likes The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.
Coming 2 American is streaming on Amazon Prime starting March 5.