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Given all that could have gone awry with a 30-years-later follow-up to the beloved 1988 comedy Coming to America, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and company emerge not only unscathed, but looking fresh as daisies in the buoyant sequel Coming 2 America (★★★☆☆).
The John Landis-directed original — available for streaming on Amazon Prime, along with the sequel — has itself aged well, better than some of Eddie’s early standup, thanks in large part to Murphy’s likable turn as Prince Akeem, heir to the throne of the fictional African nation of Zamunda.
While the precise origins of Akeem’s story were a matter of legal dispute, with late Washington Post writer Art Buchwald winning his case against Paramount for cribbing from his screen treatment, there’s no disputing that the role perfectly merged Murphy’s celebrity life and screen persona into one charming hero. An African prince so rich and famous and romantic that he’d travel all the way to Queens, New York, in order to find a partner who’s his peer or better in every way but financially, Akeem was and is a role Eddie Murphy embodies effortlessly.
That Murphy’s relatively strait-laced performance was surrounded by so many hilarious elements was the icing on the cake for the first film. So, director Craig Brewer (Dolemite Is My Name) and Murphy are wise to have brought back nearly every memorable character, cast member, and gag, along with welcome new additions, plus a sweetly woke script, credited to original screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield, and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris.
The gold- and diamond-rich Zamunda is still an extravagant land of happily strolling elephants, rose petal bearers, and other princely comforts. Murphy and Hall still don pounds of hair and makeup to play a revolving gallery of goofy characters. Shari Headley returns as Lisa, Akeem’s queen from Queens, while Paul Bates is back as stern-faced Oha, royal servant to the ailing ruler of Zamunda, King Jaffe Joffer, again played by the ever-regal James Earl Jones. And fans can expect a giggle-inducing redo of the classic “She’s Your Queen to Be,” as well as the long-awaited return of Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate.
In a satirical nod to modern international conflicts, the royal family and Zamunda are now under threat from dancing despot General Izzi, supreme leader of bordering Nexdoria. Wesley Snipes has fun in the role, digging into Izzi’s disdain for Akeem’s lack of a male heir to the throne. Akeem dotes on his three daughters — Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy), and Tinashe (Akiley Love) — yet still feels the sting of not living up to antiquated macho traditions. His journey to find the male heir he didn’t know he had, courtesy of a one-night-stand with “morally bereft” Mary Junson (a loud and proud Leslie Jones) in Queens, drives the film’s put-family-first message.
Murphy, after all, has spent much of the three decades since his obscenity-laced ’80s heyday voicing a cartoon donkey and talking to animals in soothing, often saccharine, family fare. One element of Coming to America that did not return is the “R” rating, so get used to hearing the Raw comic exclaim, “I am the MF-ing king!” But even without the f-bombs, and while generously handing over a lions’ share of screen time to actor-comedian, and D.C. native Jermaine Fowler, as Akeem’s long-lost son Lavelle, Murphy proves without a doubt he’s still a true king of comedy.
Coming 2 America is available for streaming Friday, March 5 on Amazon Prime. Visit www.amazon.com.
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