Coming 2 America: Will Gompertz reviews sequel starring Eddie Murphy ★★☆☆☆

Will Gompertz
Arts editor
@WillGompertzBBCon Twitter

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image copyrightAmazon Studios/BBC

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.

It rarely works out well, and Coming 2 America doesn't buck the trend.

The self-mockery inherent in the project reaches metalevels in one scene in which two characters discuss the mercantile nature of the American movie business. They are particularly scornful of sequels, "if something is good why ruin it" they agree. The knowing irony appears to make the producers' position clear: this is a light-hearted homage to a classic film with all your favourite characters hamming it up Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again style.

image copyrightAlamy
image captionEddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall starred in Coming to America in 1988, which the screenwriter described as a "black fairytale, where black people were grand"

The only snag is…

The band might be back together but the high notes they hit all those years ago fall flat far too often in a film with a plot that largely follows the original, with the added twist of a generational shift.

Set 30 years after the last movie ended, we meet a portlier Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) who is still happily married to his princess from Queens, Lisa (Shari Headley) with whom he has had three sparky daughters (Murphy's real life daughter Bella plays middle child Omma).

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.

And that's a big problem.

image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionAkeem (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"
image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionMeeka (KiKi Layne) proves she's one gutsy daughter

Akeem's father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) is dying and wants to put his royal house in order before shuffling off.

He fears his pampered boy won't last a week as King before being overthrown by the machinegun-loving General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), who will seize the throne because Akeem has failed to have a son and heir.

image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionJames Earl Jones is back as the grand King Jaffe Joffer
image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionGeneral Izzi (Wesley Snipes) sees his daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor) as a useful tool

But…as luck would have it (a vital ingredient in fairy tales with awkward plot holes) Akeem does have a son!

Unbeknownst to him, he was drugged and taken advantage of by a feisty lady called Mary Junson (Leslie Jones) back in his bachelor days in New York. Akeem has no recollection of the encounter, but his old friend and personal assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) knows all about it for he was the naughty chap who set up the liaison.

Akeem and Semmi decide to return to Queens, NYC to find the boy and bring him back to a life of Riley as royalty.

But how will they pick him out in a crowd of millions in New York?

Once again, lady luck is on hand - this time in the grizzled shape of an elderly palace retainer who has drawn his "vision" of the young man. And so, the Prince and his trusty sidekick head back to America armed with wads of cash and a photofit drawing of Akeem's heir.

They arrive to discover much has changed; a realisation they find momentarily disconcerting. That's before Akeem spots the trusty old barber shop that is still run by the scissor-wielding, opinion-sharing, tall-tale-telling trio, which is good news for all as they are the best thing in the movie by some distance barring a cameo appearance from Gladys Knight singing Midnight Train to Zamunda.

image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionThe barber shop characters make a welcome return
image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionThe moment Akeem sets eyes on his son Lavelle (played by Jermaine Fowler)

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. There's a subtle visual gag towards the end when a groom-to-be is seen wearing stone-washed jeans that hark back to those worn by Murphy in '88. That said, the only rah-rah skirts to be seen in this 80s nostalgia-fest were in the occasionally-inserted clips from the original film that act as a back story catch-up for newcomers, and a source of fond memories for old-timers.

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.

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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