Movie Review: “Coming 2 America”

I should’ve known this would happen. Nearly a year ago, after being pretty disappointed with the Burt Reynolds-starring prison-sports flick The Longest Yard (looking at the equally negative—and equally poorly-written—Field of Dreams review I penned more than a year ago, perhaps that has more to do with my not being such a huge sports guy than anything, but still), my inner war about seeing the Adam Sandler remake was squashed after I couldn’t defeat arguments like “It’s not like I care about the original version anyway, so what’s the harm in laughing at how bad this remake probably is?” More than you’d think.

Apparently not bothering to learn from any of my past mistakes, I decided to watch Coming 2 America (yeah, the title’s that cringe) for virtually the same reasons. In my defense, my family wanting to see how shameless the fanservice would be (more on that later) was ultimately, at the lack of a less pathetically overused analogy, the straw breaking the camel’s back. Curiosity may not actually kill the cat, but it did leave me wasting my time with a noisy, suffocatingly dull non-starter for nearly 2 hours straight.

Before proceeding to purge this nonsense out of my system forever, it seems reasonable to give my feelings about it some context. Since I’m apparently too lazy to give it a full-length review, the original Coming to America left me with the impression of a likable, fairly engaging screwball comedy with Eddie Murphy slipping into multiple roles well (this is before his Nutty Professor days, thank God), though one ultimately let down by a dumb, overly predictable—and sappy—plot. As such, I gave it a measly 6/10 on Letterboxd, which some may see as overly harsh (and, in some respects, may very well be), but doesn’t mean I didn’t get a decent amount of enjoyment out of it.

The same, however, cannot be said for Coming 2 America (seriously, how are you even supposed to pronounce that without confusing others?), which I honestly would’ve turned off within the first 15-30 minutes if it weren’t for my family wanting to finish it; I even turned to them multiple times and asked “Do we have to keep this on?”, and they made it very clear that we did. Of course, there was also the option of me heading out of the living room and watching something else, but part of my mind kept insisting that there was still a chance of the film getting better after that happened. It didn’t.

While it’s irritatingly undermined by the Hallmark-level cinematography, Ruth E. Carter’s costume design is striking, and she’s certainly seemed to work hard to make sure not a faulty stitch was visible. It’s also clear Murphy had fun getting the band—or rather, the original film’s cast—back together one last time (I hope) and re-entering the glorious land of Zamunda, so I don’t wish to poo-poo them, or anyone else who enjoyed striding into the nation’s sun-dappled palace again.

With all that out of the way, Coming 2 America simply never made me laugh once. Comedy can certainly be hard to get a chuckle out of everyone, but when pushed far enough, knowingly “stupid” absurdism like Up in Smoke and Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! usually does the trick just fine for me, as do energetic romps like Barbershop and (if you prefer some gritty seriousness being mixed in with your silliness) Blindspotting. Despite—and, in fact, partly because of—a handful of teeth-gratingly witless shock-value “jokes” scattered throughout, this film never bothers pushing itself anywhere at all.

I see I have now moaned at length about how awful Coming 2 America is, and haven’t really bothered to specify why that’s the case. For starters, literally the only reason its setup—Prince Akeem (Murphy) learning he has an illegitimate son in the first film’s central location: Queens, New York—exists because, as his best friend/aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall), hesitantly explains, Your Majesty’s son was actually date-raped after that bar scene in said predecessor.

Not only is such a premise far more appropriate for the average Family Guy episode than something like America, but nothing after this succeeded at scrubbing away the overwhelmingly sour taste it left in my mouth. Even more insultingly, this particular aspect of Lavelle Junson’s (the son’s) conception is completely forgotten about after this point, betraying the writers’ intentions to have their hollow, “royal” cake and eat it too. The same thing goes for [MILD SPOILERS] King Jaffe Joffer’s (James Earl Jones) death from old age early in the film, which, even when it happens, hardly elicits a shrug anyway. [END SPOILERS]

Once Akeem picks Junson up from Queens to bring him to Zamunda, Coming 2 America finishes its transformation into one of those Christmas Prince-type TV-movies I’d return from chess club to find my mom and sister watching, then immediately dash to the basement to avoid. Things do happen that affect the plot, but they feel so strangely disconnected from each other that, being blunt here, the film may as well have been titled Wacky Zamundan Hijinks.*

We never really see Junson struggling to adapt to an entirely different continent (when Akeem and Semmi venture into Queens in the first film, you initially feel just as giddily disoriented as them; that same feeling doesn’t materialize here), or accept that his former life was a complete and utter lie, or process the news that a neighboring country, Nextdoria (har, har, har), is on the verge of staging a violent coup against Zamunda. In fact, none of the characters are very interesting or sympathetic at all, making it impossible to care about anything that happens.

In an effort to make up for this, Coming 2 America blasts us with blandly cloying sitcom music (most irritating when playing over scenes that would be so much better without it) and excessive dance numbers to make itself seem more “cool”, but only succeeds in giving itself an obnoxiously bombastic tone. Worse, the “remember this from the first movie?” moments range from the Queens barbershop making a couple reappearances (the “haha we’re so transphobic hahaha” moments are unbearable, but everything else is tolerable enough, I guess) to—I’m not joking—one character reciting the predecessor’s plot to another while a highlight reel of these events play, as if our brains had been wiped sparkling clean of them before firing this sequel up.

Coming 2 America’s “woke” elements (the cleverest instance of which is, in a callback to the first film’s “royal bath” scene, the washers’ and washees’ genders being swapped) may be less irritating, but reek of the same vacant, airless stench. For the record, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of including more feminist perspectives in your movie, though even when you’re making a light and silly comedy, it might be good to have more radical ideas than “Women should make their own marital choices!”, “Women can rock at fighting too!”, and—well, you get the idea.

But I digress. Besides that astoundingly tone-deaf premise, there’s not much here that’s absolutely atrocious, but at the same time, it’s utterly free of any substance whatsoever. That being said, judging by how large of a fanbase the original Coming to America has, there will still be people who enjoy this film for what it is. The only crown it seems destined to hold in the long run, though, is small, plastic, and transparently well-worn—not one very fit for a king, if you ask me. There go the stupid analogies again.

3/10

*Since Coming 2 America only has a few short scenes set in the titular country, it really should’ve been titled Coming to Zamunda, but I guess that would’ve been harder to market. Not since Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, a film in which [SPOILERS] Michael Corleone is perfectly alive and well in every single scene (at least, in the version mentioning his demise in the title, not the one I reviewed last July) [END SPOILERS], has a sequel’s title been equally as nonsensical as it dumb.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent from this website for quite some time now. I’ve felt pretty bad for not following up on the promises made at the end of my I’m Thinking of Ending Things review (a fitting film to discuss before taking such an extended break) for a while now, but schoolwork and—I’ll admit— my increasing apathy towards review-writing hindered my return until now. More will be coming soon, but as of the moment, I can’t promise a review for everything I watch.

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