“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 theaters 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 with “Dolemite is My Name” and his triumphant Emmy-winning return to “Saturday Night Live,” with more nostalgia – including plans for another “Beverly Hills Cop” sequel – yet to come.
At its core, “Coming to America” presented a simple and sweet fairy tale, about a pampered prince traveling to Queens in search of true love. Yet the movie spent much of its time simply serving as a zany showcase for Murphy and Arsenio Hall, spending ample time in the makeup chair for their barber-shop characters and more.
Directed by “Dolemite’s” Craig Brewer, “Coming 2” reprises all of that, with a nicely cast next-generation element that essentially replays the plot from a different angle. As a bonus, the story (credited to a trio of writers) comes with a feminist hook, and a lesson, like the first film, about setting aside outdated traditions.
Thirty-ish years later, Murphy’s Prince Akeem is still happily married to Lisa (Shari Headley) with three talented daughters, the eldest of whom (“If Beale Street Could Talk’s” KiKi Layne) would seemingly make a perfect queen.
Yet the law demands a male heir, and faced with a threat from the leader of a neighboring land, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes, reuniting after “Dolemite” and 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 (comic 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.
If that sounds a little busy, much of it is really just an excuse to turn Murphy and Hall loose again on their old shtick, augmented by almost too many cameos to mention, up to and including the closing credits. 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.
It’s frankly 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.
In that respect, this very nostalgic, mildly entertaining movie possesses a rather timely undercurrent, even if its delivery via Amazon – like most issues facing Zamunda’s royal family – amounts to a high-class problem.
“Coming 2 America” premieres March 5 on Amazon. It’s rated PG-13.