Pop Culture with Tatiana

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“Coming 2 America” was clearly designed to be crowd-pleasing back when crowds were possible, and as such it’s among the few movies redirected from theatres to streaming that have genuinely lost something because of it.

That said, it’s still a good deal of fun, reassembling old faces from the 1988 original while adding plenty of new ones. The first movie came at the height of Eddie Murphy’s rise to box-office stardom, after a string of hits in the 1980s. The new film follows a rousing comeback after “Dolemite is My Name” and his triumphant Emmy-winning return to SNL with more nostalgia — including plans for another “Beverly Hills Cop” sequel — yet to come.

The BBC’s Arts Editor Will Gompertz gave the highly anticipated sequel 2 out of 5 stars and said “Coming 2 America isn’t so much a Coming To America sequel, as a parody of the original film”.

“There are call-backs galore, cameos reprised, and a large chunk of the 1988 cast trying to recapture the old magic like a middle-aged boxer returning to the ring for one last payday.”

The story

Thirty years later after the first film, Murphy’s character Prince Akeem is still happily married to Lisa (Shari Headley) with three talented daughters, the eldest of whom ( played by Kiki Layne) would seemingly make a perfect queen. BUT time might have moved on, but traditional, patriarchal Zamunda has not.

It matters not that the three girls can bring an army to a halt with their combat skills, or whose intelligence can outwit the most conniving enemy; their gender prohibits any one of them from ascending the throne.

The law demands a male heir, and faced with a threat from the leader of a neighbouring land, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes, making the most of his comedic turn), Akeem is delighted to discover he unexpectedly has one, who he somewhat improbably fathered during his time in New York.

Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his mom (Leslie Jones) are surprised to discover those origins, but along with his uncle (Tracy Morgan, adding to what’s already a pretty deep “SNL” connection) they jet off to the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda, where Lavelle is supposed to marry Izzi’s daughter and secure the peace. Yet he runs into his own complications regarding arranged marriages, which isn’t helped by the seeming injustice of bypassing Akeem’s other kids.

The story comes with a feminist hook, and a lesson, like the first film, about setting aside outdated traditions.

Akeem (Eddie Murphy) with his beloved Lisa (Shari Headley) in Coming 2 America, which Murphy said is “escapism, it’s entertainment and everybody needs a good laugh”

General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) and his daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor).

Review

The culture shock Akeem and Semmi experienced three decades ago is less acute and less amusing. Old scenes are rehashed with new jokes focussing on the changes that have taken place in society since their last visit. Gender reassignment, gentrification and taxi-hailing apps all get a mention in pay-offs that make you wince rather than laugh.

There are periods when the film rises above its laboured and predictable script to recapture some of the warmth and wit of the original, which itself was a fun film rather than a great movie.

Fortunately, the film is peppered with some very funny lines, like Lavelle telling Hall’s Semmi that he dresses “like a slave from the future,” and in very meta fashion badmouthing American movies for relying on sequels that nobody asked to see.

Frankly, the best thing about Coming 2 America is the nudge it gives you to re-watch – or watch – the original, what with its glancing nod to Trading Places among the many nice touches sprinkled throughout.

The sequel is not bad, it’s just not very good. It’s hard to tell how well the movie would have fared at the box office, but it does make one miss the theatrical experience, if only to share in the reaction when someone like James Earl Jones appears on screen.

If you want to be gently amused for a couple of hours while playing spot-the-celebrity, you could do a lot worse.

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