Coming 2 America

Coming 2 America (1.5*) - Even if you liked the original, this sequel was unnecessary.
Coming 2 America

Oscar Nominations:

Makeup and Hairstyling (Marino/Morris/Farmer)

There is a scene in Coming 2 America where the Eddie Murphy character’s new-found son, Lavelle, is getting to know his personal hair groomer, Mirembe, and they discuss the possible value of movie sequels.  Mirembe says “it is true about the sequels. If something is good…. “. And they both finish the sentence with “… don’t try to ruin it.”  Since these lines are in the movie, the only possible conclusion I can reach is that Murphy, and the producers, just didn’t like the original.  Otherwise, why did they end up ruining it?

Coming 2 America is Eddie Murphy’s sequel to his hit film, from 1988, (Coming to America).  Thirty-Three years is a long time to wait to do a sequel and is exceeded only by Disney’s animated follow-up to Bambi (64 years) and Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick sequel, which he released this year, 36 years after his original hit Top Gun.  (I’m pretty sure the recent Cruise film will be on next year’s Oscar list so I haven’t seen it yet.)

I wish I hadn’t been required to view Murphy’s sequel which is a wretched movie, rating at the absolute bottom of all 38 films on this year’s list by the viewing public and next to the bottom based on Metacritic scores.  Odie Henderson ( wrote “Had I not known the original film, there would be little to no pleasure to be derived here.”  James Berardinelli (ReelViews) echoed that sentiment “Outside of Eddie Murphy completists, it would be hard to identify a target demographic for this movie, whose reason for production remains obscure.”   And even A.O. Scott (New York Times) says that “Lavelle’s cynicism about sequels isn’t challenged very effectively, I’m afraid.”  In short, nobody liked this film.

There is much talent in this movie.  Besides multiple roles being played by both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall – most of them the same as in the original –  the film features Black actors including Shari Headley (reprising her role from the original film), Jermain Fowler (as King Akeem’s long-lost son, Lavelle), Leslie Jones (of Saturday Night Live fame) as Lavelle’s Mother, Wesley Snipes as the ridiculously comical General Izzy, KiKi Layne (who was terrific in If Beale Street Could Talk) as King Akeem’s eldest daughter, and James Earl Jones (in his last film role before his death) as King Akeem’s father.  There are musical performances from Salt-N-Pepa, En Vogue, and Gladys Knight as well as cameos from Morgan Freeman, Trevor Noah, and John Legend.  (Louie Anderson also has a minor role and is definitely the “token white” in this film.)

So, yes, there was much talent here, but it all seemed wasted.  The musical performances and dance scenes might have been one of the best reasons to see this film, but they were cut short and didn’t serve any real purpose.  The jokes were often crude, maybe even more so than the original movie, but most of them would appeal only to junior high school boys – well, maybe that was the intended audience all along.  There is a scene, supposedly involving a ritual circumcision (the Umbajatoo), that is to test Lavelle’s courage but it ends up being out-of-place, forced, crude, and, ultimately, totally unnecessary.

In theory, producing a sequel now, during the #MeToo era, the film should show a more equal and less misogynistic view towards women.  Ultimately, the plot gets there, but along the way women are treated as badly as they originally were.  Female characters exist, and engage in fighting scenes, but down deep, this movie remains all about the men – it is still their world and, it is clear, that women exist only to support them.

There are some good things about Coming 2 America and, if you are interested in them, reasons to actually spend time with the film.  It was nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling and I have never actually seen black hair treated with such care and attention to detail.  The hairstyles of the women especially, are simply works of art and will capture your imagination.  The makeup, dealing with both deaging and aging problems, is similarly terrific. Frankly, if the movie had been better, I suspect that it might have won this category.  It wasn’t nominated for Costumes, but probably should have been.  They were done by Ruth E. Carter who did similar outstanding work for the Black Panther movies.  (She won the Oscar for Black Panther in 2019.)  She manages to bring African symbolism, colors, and style into the look for both men and women.

Still, it is hard to figure out exactly who should watch this film.  There are enough references to the original that, if you liked that one, you will probably get a small kick out of this one.  But if you didn’t see that one, or have forgotten most of it, then I’m not sure where this one takes you.  Sure, Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and Wesley Snipes can sometimes be funny and their impromptu interactions are, at times genius-level.  But this is supposed to be a movie – it is to tell a story and engage the viewer in the characters.  I don’t think you will remember any of them the next day.  Who asked for this sequel, anyway?

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Coming 2 America
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