‘Coming 2 America’ is Deeply, Embarrassingly Bad

Eddie Murphy is the straight man, and that’s the least of its problems

As a relic of 1980s comedy, Coming to America holds up better than most. It’s not perfect, as Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy)’s quest for a marriage of equals is undermined by a liberal sprinkling of sexism and a truly terrible ending. Mostly, though, it is still damn funny. And so it’s with a heavy heart that I report that the sequel, Coming 2 America, is deeply, embarrassingly bad. This despite re-teaming Murphy with director Craig Brewer, who together made the very good 2019 comedy Dolemite Is My Name.

So, what happened? Coming 2 America seems to fundamentally misunderstand what made the original so funny, which was placing Murphy in the center of a foreign-visitor trope, a prince trying to find a queen in Queens. Here, they flip the plot and bring the film’s newcomers (Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan) to the fictional African country, Zamunda, and make Murphy, essentially, the straight man. Never make Murphy the straight man! The only possible way this could have worked is if Fowler was a comic talent on the level of a young Murphy. He’s likable, but he’s certainly not that.

Maybe this was always a no-win proposition. Can you really have a post-Wakanda Zamunda? Not without a radical overhaul, which definitely did not happen (and while we’re thinking about this, why didn’t a Black director get the gig?). In the light of 2021, Zamunda’s culture seems like some Saudi Arabia-level bullshit: Women can’t own businesses. They’re still used as rose-petal sprinklers and royal bathers. Akeem’s long-ago-spurned fiancee is still barking like a dog (!). And Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley)’s three daughters can’t legally be heirs to the throne. Sure, some of this is being set up to be dismantled before the credits roll–barely-but still. Yuck.


COMING 2 AMERICA(1/5 stars)
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, Kenya Barris, David Sheffield
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, Wesley Snipes
Running time: 140 min


Fortunately for the Zamundan patriarchy, Akeem finds out he has a son (Fowler) in America, spawned during one drugged night during his Queens sojourn. He faintly remembers Jones’ character as a rapey wild boar. Which is hard for me to imagine Jones being okay with, but maybe everyone in the cast just wanted to be a part of this thing, and the less questions asked the better. See also: Morgan Freeman, Trevor Noah, Luenell, and Murphy’s Dolemite co-star Wesley Snipes, who plays a rival ruler from the next door kingdom of…Nextdoria. That’s the level of screenwriting we’re working with. Hallmark Christmas movies have more nuance.

Snipes, thankfully, camps it up as General Izzi, who wants his daughter to marry Akeem’s son, Lavelle. This gives the film a chance to replay the arranged-marriage bit from the first movie. Lavelle asks her about her personality, and she answers that she likes whatever he likes. It was one of the least funny parts of the original, and it’s worse now, and nobody bothered to tweak it at all. 

Alas, there are no appearances from Eriq la Salle’s villainous, moist-haired Darryl, or Allison Dean’s excitable Patrice. If there was a hat tip to Soul Glo, I missed it. Arsenio Hall reprises his sidekick character, Semmi, but he doesn’t have much to do and looks, frankly, tired and unenthused. Ditto John Amos as Cleo, owner of the McDowell’s franchise, which has set up a palace-adjacent locale. At least we get a brief return to the barbershop in Queens, where Murphy and Hall play most of the characters. Still impressive and funny, although I contend you could pull it off without the cliched potshots at #MeToo. 

Brewer does know his way around a big musical number. (Unpopular opinion: His Footloose remake is kind of great.) We get a rousing rendition of Prince’s “Gett Off,” and musical performances from En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa and Gladys Knight. Murphy’s alter ego Randy Watson, a hilariously terrible R&B singer, makes a comeback with his band Sexual Chocolate. I don’t know if these constitute enough highlights to make this worth two hours of your time. The cast seems to be having a pretty great time, though, so maybe vicarious enjoyment will suffice. 

I liked what Questlove had to say in Rolling Stone’s tribute to Soul Glo, one of the best running gags from the original: [Soul Glo and Coming to America] are truly moments in which black people got to experience a cross between Afrocentricity and black joy and things that we needed to see. I didn’t realize how aspirational it was, because it seemed like a fantasy.” If you can find moments that sustain the fantasy here, great! But since the original is also available on Prime – free with your subscription, no less- why not just go straight to the source? 

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Sara Stewart

Sara Stewart is a film critic and a culture and entertainment writer whose work is featured in the New York Post, CNN.com, and more. You can see her stories and contact her at sarastewart.org. But not on Twitter, because she’s been troll-free since 2018.

10 thoughts on “‘Coming 2 America’ is Deeply, Embarrassingly Bad

  • March 5, 2021 at 7:48 pm
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    I see that they also reprised the colorism of the original. The dynamic of the light-skinned sister, Lisa, being pretty, demure, and desirable while the dark-skinned one, Patrice, is low class, sexually aggressive, and undesirable is duplicated with Shari Headley and Leslie Jones. Actually, it’s worse, because the writers ramped it up by characterizing Ms. Jones as an animal and her conduct as possibly non-consensual. The writers had an opportunity to remedy this in the sequel and instead doubled down on it. That’s not a huge surprise with Kenya Barris on the writing team (colorism/fetishization of light-skinned and mixed race women is his brand), but it’s disappointing nonetheless — like the movie itself. The original is an icon and this was just . . . unnecessary.

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    • April 12, 2021 at 9:23 am
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      Actually because Lisa is more attractive than Patrice.

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  • March 6, 2021 at 1:03 am
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    You’re right about the film, but lord what a painfully woke Karen…

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  • March 8, 2021 at 9:51 am
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    I’m not sure how/why ‘black culture’ is typically disseminated through music videos, slave movies and comedy…we all have an idea as to why….but that’s another convo. This movie is literally a combination of all of those things, with an added sprinkle of athletes and fashion designers in there somewhere if I remember correctly.

    It’s entertainment. And I for one think people (ESPECIALLY BLACK PEOPLE) need to stop trying to rebrand entertainment as education and culture. Sometimes the two combine and it’s amazing. Movies like this though…it’s just something to entertain you for a couple hours. The same goes for the first one. It was entertainment. Not culture. Not education. Not some deep explanation of the black experience (African OR American) or a proper psychological exploration of sexism, sexual aggressiveness & skintone. It’s a silly story about a rich African migrant’s exploits in America and his (imaginary) homeland of Zamunda. Silly story, end of story.

    Whoever is taking this movie and trying to give it some powerful cultural relevance should go ahead and start reading books and watching documentaries that were created to disseminate powerful cultural information. Coming 2 America is NOT the source for such things.

    Oh, and yes…there WAS a Soul Glo nod. 😉

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  • March 8, 2021 at 2:21 pm
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    I took a chance on this, and it was painful to watch. Eddie Murphy and Arsenal Hall looked tired and bloated. It seemed as if they were just doing this to get another paycheck. The new characters were cliche and unlikeable. The original was far better. This one had the same rehashed jokes and punchlines, and adding that Prince Akeem had a illegitimate child was a bad idea in the long sad history of bad ideas in script writing. The only parts that were funny to me were the barbershop scenes, but that wasn’t enough to carry the entire film. What about Patrice or Eric LaSalle’s character? Where were they? This was a necessary sequel in which ruined the original for me… Please Hollywood, do something fresh, new and original.

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  • March 8, 2021 at 11:33 pm
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    Embarrassingly Bad .. is being polite … it is Terrible .. could not believe how bad it was gave up after 35 minutes . then decided to watch the whole thing to see if anything redeemed it.. … the lazy lion moment … only thing that brought a laugh…
    The original was brilliantly funny and entertaining … this .. I feel sorry for the kids these days

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  • March 10, 2021 at 4:18 pm
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    I couldn’t enjoy the movie more because of the bad lighting. Why was it shot with such dim lighting? Please do tell.

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  • March 22, 2021 at 8:50 am
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    It was painful to watch !

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  • March 23, 2021 at 3:48 am
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    braindead critic.

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  • March 27, 2021 at 8:13 pm
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    Not only was it terrible, but it also displayed how Africans view african americans…..like niggas. The Africans looked civil, his BM and son acted like straight niggas at his home…..even labeled herself a hoe. Thumbs down Eddie

    Reply

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