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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Life + Arts

The Cougar Reviews: ‘Coming 2 America’ plays it carefully


Coming 2 America Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

If the 1988 John Landis comedy “Coming to America” is anything short of an exceptional work of cinematic art, no one ever told me. 

Drake, on his 2013 song titled “Tuscan Leather,” rapped the lyrics relating to the film and Eddie Murphy’s character, helping to solidify himself as the king of flexes and providing young men everywhere with one more social media-worthy caption. 

But the bar was culturally relatable because of the film that it references. 

At one point, everyone wanted to live like Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), the heir to the throne of the fictional African nation Zamunda.

“Coming to America” is one of the many projects Murphy starred in during what was an unmatched hot streak of films by the comedian and actor in the 1980s. 

It’s also arguably his best. 

Therefore, it’s no surprise that a sequel has been in the works for some time now. 

When production began on “Coming 2 America” in 2019, it was clear that receiving the interest from a generation of fans that has aged significantly since the original film’s release would be an uphill battle.

With a new director and writer combination on board, recapturing the Zamundan magic was going to be a task that some saw as unnecessary

Sequels to classic films are seldom received in a positive light, and “Coming 2 America” has been no exception.

Despite impressive streaming numbers, the film hasn’t been well-received among the elders of the culture. 

The sequel follows Prince Akeem during a period of transition, marked by the impending death of his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones).

As nations are weakest during the transitioning of leadership, the leader of Zamunda’s rival country, Nextdooria, threatens Akeem with war if there is no way to work together.

The problem is that Akeem has no son to marry the daughter of Nextdooria ruler General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). 

While each of Akeem’s three daughters are clearly suitable to one day take over for their father, for some reason, it must be a boy.  This piece to the plot is so overtly sexist that it comes across only as an obvious and lazily written area for growth that will surely be resolved by the end of the film.

Taking the throne with no clear heir would leave him vulnerable, and Akeem fears an assassination attempt on his life if this were to happen.

King Joffer then informs Akeem he has a son back in America, and through a bit of really cool Scorsese-esque de-aging technology, we can see how this came to be.

This is where criticism of the film is certainly warranted. The story presented in which Prince Akeem helped conceive a child under conditions he failed to remember for 30-plus years is both a cinematic reach and obnoxiously convenient. 

Akeem and his best pal Semmi (Arsenio Hall) once again head to America, this time to find Akeem’s son and bring him back to Zamunda.

Jermaine Fowler does a tremendous job as Lavelle, the son Akeem never knew. The scenes that include his mother, played by Leslie Jones, are some of the funniest in the film. 

Back in Zamunda, Lavelle must learn to be a king, and it doesn’t come naturally to him one bit.

With the help of his streetwise uncle (Tracy Morgan), Lavelle slowly learns what it means to be a leader and how one must fight through adversity with class and elegance. 

In the end, nothing that happens in the film is much of a surprise. The loose ends are all tied up, and Lavelle eventually finds his rightful place in Zamunda.

The film is a feel-good family flick if there ever was one, and the writers do an excellent job at preserving the comedic integrity of the original film, while still writing for laughs with the current cultural context in mind. 

“Coming 2 America” is an enjoyable watch if you are looking for a few chuckles that remind you of its predecessor, just don’t expect much more.

Murphy recently revealed an early idea for the sequel included Michael B. Jordan as his son, with Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler attached to direct.

For reasons that could never make sense, Murphy rejected the pitch. 

Though the final result is a decent product, the revelation is sure to leave many cinephiles forever wondering, what if?

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