‘Coming 2 America’: A New Generation Helps Eddie Murphy Become the King He Was Meant To Be
Eddie Murphy returns to his most majestic role in “Coming 2 America,” the sequel to his 1988 hit “Coming to America.” This new film features the same universal themes pertaining to family, duty and love that made the original so beloved, while also ushering Zamunda, the fictional African nation that Murphy’s Prince Akeem Joffer calls home, into the 21st century.
When we last saw Akeem over 30 years ago, he had just married Lisa (Shari Headley), the beautiful and intelligent woman he met in Queens, New York, in a lavish ceremony. Now, the pair have three royal daughters, Meeka (KiKi Layne), Omma (Murphy’s real-life daughter Bella Murphy) and Tinashe (Akiley Love). Meeka has been preparing her whole life to either rule or co-rule the kingdom with a husband, but her position is threatened when Akeem learns from his dying father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones), that he fathered a son during his trip to Queens.
Akeem receives the news of the existence of his now-adult son, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), with mixed emotions, mostly because he has no memory of sleeping with a woman who wasn’t Lisa. Lavelle’s conception is explained in an outrageous sequence that splices new scenes into footage from the first film. Leslie Jones steals the show here as Mary, Lavelle’s uninhibited mother who had sex with Akeem while he was high for the first (and probably the only time) in his life.
In present day, Akeem, along with his best friend and aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall), returns to Queens to retrieve his son, who is now his presumptive heir. Although Lavelle, a resourceful young man who had to drop out of college to help out his mom, is initially weary of this seemingly odd and effusive foreign man, he is persuaded to come to Zamunda on the condition that Mary comes as well.
Once in Zamunda, Lavelle hastily agrees to a betrothal with Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), the alluring and glamorous daughter of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the ruler of Zamunda’s neighboring country, the aptly-named Nextdoria. Snipes goes all in as the very extra Izzi, who is still upset about Akeem rejecting his engagement to his sister, Princess Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway, who gets big laughs in the precious few minutes she appears). Desperate for a powerful alliance, he first proposes a marriage between Meeka and his lame son Idi (Rotimi), but Akeem isn’t into it.
When it came time to write the screenplay for “Coming 2 America,” Murphy, who is also a producer on the film, reunited the original writers, former “Saturday Night Live” scribes Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield. For a fresh perspective, he also brought in “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris. Some of the amusing little things that show how much times have changed include the introduction of the Beyond Big Mick at McDowell’s, the fast food restaurant owned by Lisa’s father, Cleo (John Amos), that now has a franchise in Zamunda. In a hilarious callback to the first film, Akeem goes to once again hail a cab in a dramatic fashion, only to be told by the driver that he needs to go into his phone and download Lyft.
Barris and the others also explore larger timely issues, particularly women and power. In one scene that brings to mind our not-so-distant history, Meeka watches a male anchor on Zamunda’s version of CNN announce Lavell’s arrival in the country with enthusiasm, noting that while they know nothing about him and his character, he’s a man, and that’s all that really matters.
Despite his engagement, Lavelle, who is undergoing a royal bootcamp of sorts, finds himself bonding with Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), his intelligent and beautiful royal barber. Not only does Lavelle’s relationship mirror Akeem’s courtship of Lisa 30 years prior, the younger man’s journey also runs parallel with his father’s present-day situation. While Lavelle belatedly comes of age and finds himself, Akeem, now a king, is confronted with the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the ideals of his youth. Zamunda still has some antiquated laws on the books, but with the help of his wife and children, there’s still hope for him and his country.
In the end, Akeem and Lavelle must find a way to blend their worlds in Zamunda and Queens together, and Murphy and director Craig Brewer assembled the best of the best for their cast. Tracy Morgan is perfectly cast as Reem, Lavelle’s uncle, a quintessential New Yorker who comes to Zamunda and clashes with Semmi. The pair eventually come to bond, as do Mary and Lisa. Jones is the perfect foil to the regal Headley, and the friendship between their characters, both women from Queens, helps cement the sisterhood theme.
And while Zamunda is a fictional place, the world of “Coming 2 America” is still rich, lush and vibrant. If the eye-catching costumes make the viewer think of another fictional African nation, that is no coincidence, as they were designed by Oscar-winning “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth E. Carter. The dazzling dance sequences are also worth mentioning, as they were choreographed by Fatima Robinson, who did the choreography for a number of memorable music videos, including Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” which featured Murphy as an Egyptian king.
A highlight of “Coming 2 America” is a star-studded scene that takes place early on and features a cameo by none other than Morgan Freeman. Be sure to watch to the ends to see some of his hilarious outtakes during the credits.
“Coming 2 America” begins streaming March 5 on Amazon Prime Video.