There’s never a good time for a bad sequel, and goodness knows we’ve seen plenty. But Coming 2 America manages to revive the central characters from Eddie Murphy’s 1988 megahit with surprisingly good results. Murphy remains a comedic force to reckon with. Working with Craig Brewer, who directed him in Dolemite Is My Name, and two of the writers of the first film (Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield, whose relationship with him began on Saturday Night Live) along with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, he is showcased at his best, even reprising the salty barbershop denizens from Queens, with acknowledgment to now-retired makeup master Rick Baker, who created them with Murphy so many years ago.

How audiences will respond if they’ve never seen the original, directed by John Landis, is an open question. The 1988 film is referenced in almost every scene, although the paper-thin story isn’t that hard to pick up on. Instead of using vintage scenes for flashback purposes Brewer and his team have “de-aged” Murphy and sidekick Arsenio Hall. How well this works is in the eye of the beholder.

Murphy’s father is again played by James Earl Jones, who even on his deathbed is in no hurry to die. During his reign, Prince Akeem and his wife (Shari Headley) have raised three daughters, none of whom can occupy the throne, according to the laws of Zamunda. Desperate to find a male heir, Akeem is finally told the truth: he fathered a bastard son (Jermaine Fowler) who has been living all this time in Queens. A trip to the U.S. is arranged and the startled young man is swept back to the African country he’s never seen before. Then he is informed that he must marry the daughter of his father’s political enemy (Wesley Snipes, in a comedic encore to his work in Dolemite Is My Name).

No effort is wasted on subtlety in the unfolding of this tale and it’s a crime not to be able to enjoy the film with a big audience in a movie theater. I can just imagine the squeals of delight with every surprise cameo appearance. I wouldn’t be surprised at ooohs and aahs greeting some of Ruth E. Carter’s eye-popping costumes and production designer Jeff Sage’s opulent sets.

It’s only in the final third of the film, when gags subside and story comes to the fore, that the seams begin to show, but Coming 2 America makes every effort to dispatch the obligatory plot points. Murphy seems to enjoy playing a prideful father and ruler, and appropriately enough, his real-life daughter Bella makes her screen debut as Akeem’s middle child.

Like Murphy, Arsenio Hall essays many roles in this sequel, and they are joined by other welcome cast members from the original movie: John Amos, Paul Bates, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Garcelle Beauvais, and Louie Anderson, and newcomers to the fold Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, and KiKi Layne, among others.

As a diehard Eddie Murphy fan, it’s reassuring to see that Dolemite Is My Name wasn’t a fluke; he still commands the screen. Long live the King!

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April 2024