Directed by Craig Brewer
Written by Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield and Kenya Barris
In recent years there has been a burgeoning of the “legacyquel”, a term coined by film critic Matt Singer to describe an IP that comes back in some form or fashion as a delivery to a new generation of fans. Good examples would be the latest Star Wars trilogy, the forthcoming Top Gun: Maverick and literally, Tron: Legacy. There is a split, it feels, in the film community in regards to both the validity and enjoyment of such properties. They are in many ways, lazy and obvious money grabs, preying on the nostalgia of fans of the original property to make another buck. In some instances, the films can also be extremely well received. The Last Jedi is perhaps the perfect example of this, a film that split fans and critics alike, with some declaring it the best of the franchise, while others calling it the worst. Where I stand on the new fad is somewhere in between. I, at once, recognize that they are indeed obvious money grabs, but given the property, I may be interested in spending more time in these worlds, with these characters, even if it means knowing full well that there will be some disappointment and likely some bad films as a result.
Coming 2 America is just one such “legacyquel”, which picks up well after the original Coming to America left off in 1988. 30 years later, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) has just become king when the neighboring militant leader General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) threatens invasion unless Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley) promise their eldest daughter (KiKi Layne) to Izzi’s son. Akeem and Lisa have had three daughters, but no sons, pressuring the arranged marriage. But Akeem soon learns that he has a bastard son, conceived in his brief time in Queens all those years ago. He and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) travel back to America to find him (Jermaine Fowler), only to discover that his brash American ways clash with the Zamunda traditions, while the move also angers Meeka, the eldest daughter who has been training her entire life to rule Zamunda.
To be clear and honest from the very beginning, this is an obvious money grab. The film feels cheap in many ways, and is catering harder than it needs to to please its target audience. So many of the tropes, jokes and funny cast members are back for this foray which feels very similar to the same story told in the original. I was actually pretty disappointed that the film took this direction instead of attempting to craft some interesting original story. By being derivative of itself, it has no room to grow and be different. For some, that will be a joy since the original is loved by many, and fans may be assured by a rehash instead of am ambitious failure. But the material feels stale, and perhaps the greatest offense is that none of the new cast members, save perhaps KiKi Layne, have much to offer the proceedings, both in the comedy and drama departments. All the heavy lifting is done by the returning cast.
We get the same barbershop pals cracking jokes, miraculously unaged from 30 years ago, and even the return of both Reverend Brown and Sexual Chocolate band leader Randy Watson. Because of this, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are both allowed to shine in their many varied roles. All of the comedic material that works, is from the original. Very little new introduced here is very funny, but I was taken back and found myself laughing once more with the many characters Eddie and Arsenio have crafted. It’s a spotlight opportunity for both actors. But given that, I was disappointed nothing more came from Jermaine Fowler, or his family members in the movie Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan. There is an abundance of talent in this film, and disappointing it wasn’t used to greater effective. It is definitely impressive to see the talent amassed here, though, with countless cameos throughout.
The film manages to get to where it needs to go, even if the arc of the characters is obvious and telegraphed from the beginning, at least it did not stray into a resolution it couldn’t have made. To avoid spoilers, it had to be this way, which is tough because its at once boring and necessary. The second half of the film really did pick things up, with the first half feeling like a string of patchwork scenes thrown together hoping to work. It slogged and felt choppy, leaning too heavily on the visual and character cues we’re expecting. My biggest takeaways from the film are this: I don’t for the life of me understand how Arsenio Hall wasn’t a bigger movie star other than the fact he became a late night host, but that man is very funny; I also think that fans of the original will probably get enough out of this to make it worthwhile, but it is disappointing insomuch as it does nothing to elevate it; new audiences will probably also like it to some extent. For me, I’m once again in the middle, just as with the entire concept of the “legacyquel”. Coming 2 America is funny in parts and a joy to spend more time with Akeem and company, but a disappointing and all together unnecessary follow-up to a comedy classic.