The energy that director Craig Brewer and star Eddie Murphy brought to ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ is completely absent here.
As I’ve remarked before, comedy sequels are inherently difficult, and they’re made even harder when decades pass between installments. Coming to America is arguably one of the best comedies of the 1980s with Eddie Murphy at the height of his powers melding his comic instincts with an endearing fish-out-of-water story. But an attempt to go back to that well with Craig Brewer’s sequel Coming 2 America is a disappointing misfire. While Murphy and Brewer made a terrific team for 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name, here they’re both stifled by trying to pay homage to the original Coming to America while lacking a compelling storyline that can deliver laughs. Coming 2 America is sadly one of those comedy sequels where you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply rewatch the original instead.
Set roughly 30 years after the events of the first movie, Akeem (Murphy) is still Prince of Zamunda, but his father’s (James Earl Jones) health is failing, and Akeem has no male heirs, which is a problem since the law states that only men can rule Zamunda. While his daughter Meeka (KiKi Layne) is more than ready to be the next ruler of Zamunda, Akeem decides to side with tradition, which he’s able to do when he learns he has a bastard son from his trip to America thirty years prior. He, along with his pal Semmi (Arsenio Hall), goes to retrieve the young man, Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), and bring him back to Zamunda to be the new prince, which Akeem hopes will cool tensions with Zamunda’s bellicose neighbor Nextdoria (yeah, I know), led by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). However, getting Lavelle to forge an alliance with Nextdoria through marriage becomes tricky when he falls for his groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha).
One of the chief problems with Coming 2 America is that it doesn’t even know who its protagonist should be. The film starts out from the perspective of Akeem as he tries to rule Zamunda and find a way forward, but once Lavelle enters the picture, the focus shifts to him and we pretty much leave Akeem behind until the third act when he realizes that he could have been a better leader and must work to accept change, a bizarre arc for a character whose original journey was about breaking with the tradition of an arranged marriage.
When you don’t even have a clear protagonist, it’s hard to map out a journey for either character. Because the film starts out as Akeem’s journey, we don’t really get to know Lavelle that well beyond him being an enterprising young man who wants a better life for himself and his family. But the idea of bringing America (as represented by Lavelle) to Zamunda never works in the same “fish-out-of-water” plot as the original because Zamunda is never particularly well-defined. The film is constantly working in broad strokes as opposed to the original, which is at its core a sweet love story about a prince pretending to be a pauper so that a woman will love him for who he is.
With no strong characters and a muddled plot, it’s no surprise that most of the jokes in Coming 2 America fail to land. While obviously certain jokes that were deemed acceptable in 1988 would have a tougher time flying today, Coming 2 America’s solution seems to be nothing more than references to the original. It’s a sequel that’s leaning heavily on your fond memories of the first movie without daring to bring anything new to the table. Perhaps that’s a product of the sequel’s PG-13 rating (the original was rated R), or maybe tamer comedy from the writers, but either way, there’s no punch here that would make the case for Coming 2 America’s existence.
Dolemite Is My Name showed that Murphy still had something to offer the world of comedy while accepting that the larger world had changed along with his place in it. Part of what made that film so uplifting is that you could feel Murphy fighting for something and really bringing his A-game while doing something new. Coming 2 America, on the other hand, feels like an attempt to relive past glories and hang out with old friends, and while I’m sure that made it a fun experience to make the movie (everyone in the film is affable enough), for those of us watching it, we’re left with a pale imitation that never comes close to the dizzying highs of the original.
The sequel hits theaters and HBO Max in July.
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