Producers: Kevin Misher and Eddie Murphy Director: Craig Brewer Screenplay: Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Teyana Taylor, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Paul Bates, Nomzamo Mbatha, Rotimi and Bella Murphy Distributor: Amazon Studios
Eddie Murphy and Craig Brewer delivered a joyous blast from the past in 2019 with “Dolemite Is My Name,” but nostalgic lightning does not strike twice. Their joint follow-up—a long-gestating sequel to Murphy’s 1988 hit—is a flimsy comedy more notable for its costumes (designed by Ruth E. Carter) and musical numbers than for laughs, which it tries to elicit with some slightly naughty jokes.
Murphy once again is Prince Akeem Joffer of Zamunda, and Arsenio Hall returns as chief court advisor Semmi. Akeem is now married to the lovely Lisa (Shari Headley), whom he met in America, and is the proud father of three girls, the eldest Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne). Unfortunately, the national tradition demands a male heir, which is a serious matter as Akeem’s father King Jeffe (James Earl Jones) is close to death and the ruler of neighboring Nextdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), seems poised to take advantage of the situation to invade, or at least demand that Meeka marry his son Idi (Rotimi).
At this point Akeem is informed by his father and their aged advisor Baba (Hall again, in heavy makeup) that he actually has an illegitimate son whom he sired during a drug-fueled night in America arranged by Akeem but kept secret all these years. (Age-reducing computer trickery is used to show them in their earlier years.) He’s Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), son of Mary (Leslie Jones) and nephew of Reem (Tracy Morgan). Akeem travels to Queens to bring Lavelle, a ambitious but sketchy young man, back to Africa, but the boy insists that his voluble mother and wise-guy uncle should come as well.
Back in Zamunda, Lisa and Meeka are none too thrilled, and Izzi now proposes that Lavelle, the new heir, marry his daughter Bopoto (Teyana Taylor), but first Lavelle must prove his worthiness of royal station by completing a series of tests. Things are further complicated by the fact that Lavelle finds his soul mate in Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), a beautiful, strong-willed member of the palace staff, and she feels the same way about him.
There’s an easygoing tempo to “Coming 2 America,” befitting a movie that’s thoroughly undemanding but rather pallid. Murphy seems to be sleepwalking through the role of Akeem, though he ramps up the energy under heavy makeup as an elderly Queens barber, his Jewish customer, and an old-timey singer (routines repeated from the first film). Hall is more animated, mugging it pretty strongly as Semmi, but he seems to get a special kick out of his alternate roles—Baba and a seedy preacher—that he too plays in heavy makeup.
Among the rest, Jones and Morgan will certainly please the groundlings with their very broad approaches, and Jones and John Amos, as Akeem’s restaurateur father-in-law, are agreeably familiar, even if the material they have to work with is relatively weak. Snipes, as in “Dolemite,” reveals a sharp comic sense, but Layne, Headley and most of the others are given little to do. There are also cameos by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Louie Anderson and Grace Jones, though none really strikes sparks. (An in-joke about unnecessary sequels is also worth a smile.)
The weakest cast elements are young lovers Fowler and Mbatha, who come across as awfully bland—like the romantic couples in a Laurel and Hardy or Marx Brothers movie. That’s true even in Fowler’s big farcical scene in which he supposedly shares the screen with a lion.
The picture has been given a brightly colored, even garish look by production designer Jefferson Sage and cinematographer Joe “Jody” Williams, and Carter’s costumes—the African ones, that is—certainly stand out. So does the choreography, composed of mostly exotic ensembles. As edited by David S. Clark, Billy Fox and Debra Neil-Fisher, the movie has a lackadaisical rhythm, but that’s partially explained by Brewer’s decision to give his stars ample time to exploit their routines. Jermaine Stegali’s score comes on strong, but fits the vibrant visuals.
This is a second “Coming” only in the most banal sense, hardly worth waiting two decades for. It’s mildly amusing, generally inoffensive and instantly forgettable, which would probably have doomed its prospects were it being released exclusively into theatres (which was production company Paramount’s original intention), but should be no barrier to it reaching a substantial audience on Amazon’s streaming service.