When Coming to America opened in 1988, I don’t think it aspired to anything more than being a funny and entertaining comedy. Whatever else it smuggled beneath the epidermis of its fish-out-of-water raunchy rom-com borrowing heavily from Preston Sturges and Howard Hawkes both in spirit and in application of comedic technique, it didn’t ultimately matter. It was an effective, innovative and light-hearted movie that capitalized on the effortless chemistry between Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall and pulled no punches when it came to more provocative attempts at humour.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the film’s recent sequel, Coming 2 America. Although the two films are already decades apart in temporal terms, they belong to two distinct universes. And the universe Coming 2 America hails from clearly doesn’t know what a comedy is because – despite the fact almost the entire cast (and writers) of the original movie was reunited for this – the movie just isn’t funny or entertaining at all. On paper, it had all the chances in the world of succeeding as a belated sequel with its predictable formula of reversing the original scenario. Instead of Akeem being a fish out of water in New York, the sequel follows Akeem’s estranged son as he is swept from the workaday life in America to become a prince overnight, which obviously comes with golden opportunities for call-backs to the original, symmetrical takes on humorous situations and more. And in fact, Coming 2 America makes good use of those tools, but none of them land successfully. For some reason, the film just isn’t funny, likely because the chemistry between leads the original film was teeming with is nowhere to be seen and – consequently – the audacious bite Coming to America sported when it came to its sense of humour has been severely tempered and neutered.
On top of that, as it is customary these days, the film has been effectively saturated with the currently relevant political messaging, which effectively dismantles any atmosphere of light-heartedness or quirky jackassery the original oozed. As opposed to its predecessor, Coming 2 America makes a seemingly conscious effort to force a whole lot of completely superfluous content onto its feeble narrative skeleton, which invariably ruins its comedic prospects. Let me just say at this point that I have nothing against the notions of celebrating black heritage or female empowerment (both of which feature prominently in the film), but something tells me that in the fervour of trying to make this movie politically relevant and sufficiently woke, the filmmakers completely disregarded the idea that they were making a sequel to an insanely entertaining comedy that many people refer to as timeless.
Call me old-fashioned but the lavish displays of ethnically-accurate costumes and dances are not a good substitute for a funny joke or a solid bit of on-screen chemistry, especially in the context of what is supposed to be first and foremost a comedy. I am sorry to report that Coming 2 America is an absolute disappointment made by people who either did not know how to capitalize on the material they had, or they were effectively bound by the contemporary culture which is oceans apart from when the original was made. This immediately suggests that perhaps this movie should not have been made in the first place. Not every 80s film requires a sequel. Though, I would suggest that if you are going to make one happen, you should do your absolute best to do it justice, which is a task this movie fails at miserably.
Normally when reviewing unsuccessful films, I do my absolute best to try and find something positive to latch onto, but this is almost completely impossible when it comes to comedies. When a science-fiction film fails, there’s always something to hang your hat onto, like craft, themes, or visual aspirations. When a comedy bombs, it’s just an awkward experience most of the time because the one job a comedy has is to be funny. And sitting through Coming 2 America felt to me as though I was trapped at a shitty stand-up comedy show where the person on the stage could not understand that the booing he gets from the audience is not an expression of support or encouragement.