In Hollywood, everything gets a sequel. As much as we whine about what’s being released these days, intellectual property rules because it’s easy to remake, reboot, restore. Remember Coming to America? How about more Coming to America, but with the same old jokes and the same old premise? Um, how about no?
Eddie Murphy reprises his role from John Landis’ 1988 film, Coming to America, as prince of a fictional nation called Zamunda. Akeem (Murphy) will soon be king but he doesn’t have an heir himself – that is, until his loyal sidekick Semi (Arsenio Hall) breaks the news. It turns out he has a son with a woman in Queens, who he met on the dance floor and who kind of/sort of raped him while he was passed out, which is played for laughs. Ha. Ha. Ha.
What ensues is a rehash of the original set-up, this time with Akeem’s son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his mother, Mary (Leslie Jones), being fetched from Queens and dropped into a country with real queens. In Zamunda, the rituals and rites of passage haven’t changed much over the years, from the court’s royal bathers (now in bikinis) to the Afrocentric costumes (now by Ruth E. Carter), to the annual dance parties with black celebrities (now with Gladys Knight, Morgan Freeman and Dikembe Mutombo). When Lavelle meets his bride-to-be at one of the parties, things take a turn for the worse.
Written by Kenya Barris and directed by Craig Brewer, the plot seems like a Greatest Hits parade rather than a feature film. So much of the exposition is loaded with callbacks to old characters who add nothing to the narrative. How are we supposed to care about Lavelle when there are all these references to more distinct personalities?
Yet these distracting callbacks are much preferred to the film’s newer segments, which are lame and contrived. Brewer tries to milk laughs from the generational differences between the young, hip, educated Lavelle and the now-uptight Akeem, who is starting to act like his father. But every joke comes off like a Twitter rant about old people, or a Progressive Insurance commercial about becoming your parents, and the lesson Akeem learns about acceptance is one he taught his father 30 years ago. So why is he learning it now?
With its stale humor and rehashed, haphazard direction from Brewer, there isn’t much Coming 2 America can do to win us over. A last-minute appearance by the charismatic Sexual Chocolate reminds us why these characters are so great. But it just makes you wish you were watching Landis’ original film, which is genuinely hilarious. If this sequel proves anything, it’s that stealing jokes from the original makes for a pretty pointless affair.