For a film that lingered in development hell for a generation, Coming 2 America is 2 little 2 late

By: Steve Pulaski

A rehash of its predecessor right down to its kitschy title, Coming 2 America is a disappointment years in the making. It’s not bereft of amusing moments, but frequent callbacks and sight-gags are lazy writing when you consider the gracefully paced original. In multiple ways, this belated sequel comes off like a tired reunion of a TV series featuring familiar faces reiterating their popular catchphrases and waxing nostalgic. 2 little 2 late.

The story picks up 30 years after the events of the 1988 film, when Prince Akeem and his loyal aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall) ventured to Queens and met Lisa (Shari Headley), who would become Akeem’s wife. We return to Zamunda, where Akeem and Lisa have lived harmoniously in the kingdom with their three girls. A quandary transpires as King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) is on his literal deathbed, and Akeem (having no sons) has no heir of his own.

Enter General Izzi (Wesley Snipes, who admittedly brings personality) of the neighboring nation of Nexdoria, who is still incensed that Akeem turned down his arranged marriage to Izzi’s sister Imani (Vanessa Bell Calloway, who we see is still hopping on one foot and barking like a dog). Izzi wants Akeem’s daughter Meeka (KiKi Layne) to marry Idi (Rotimi Akinoso), although she has no interest in doing so. This is when Semmi drops a bombshell. During their trip to Queens, Akeem had a drunken, pot-fueled one-night stand with Mary (Leslie Jones), who later had a son named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Akeem has no memory of this. It’s always fun when a belated sequel opens a can of worms with a revisionist plotline the main character can’t even remember.

Akeem and Semmi travel back to Zamunda, meet Lavelle, and take him and his family, including Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan), back to Zamunda, where he will be wealthy beyond conception and train to be Akeem’s eventual heir. Lavelle will also happen to have the same reservations about his arranged marriage and find love elsewhere, bizarrely angering Akeem despite his own youthful disobedience that produced the state of his current kingdom for the better.

You would think after 30 years, the already ancient Queens barber Mr. Clarence (Murphy), his codgerly Jewish buddy Saul (also Murphy), and the other mainstays of the shop (Hall, Clint Smith) would be long gone dead; at least retired. Nope. They’re still cracking wise about social issues and arguing about boxing. Surely Reverend Brown (Hall) is out of the picture. Actually, he gets an extended sequence. John Amos still runs the fast-food copy-cat McDowell’s, albeit the Zamunda location, and Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate is still kicking. These asides were great, unexpected fun the first time around. Their inclusions in the sequel show time away from the material didn’t prompt any new ideas from screenwriters Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield (the latter two the writers of the original Coming to America).

Zamunda is indeed a colorful landscape. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter (who worked on Black Panther) fills every interior with vibrant patterns and majestic colors accentuating the look and feel of Africa. This makes Coming 2 America a visual delight, never ungainly in appearance.

But much of the humor in Coming to America came from Akeem’s fish-out-of-water sensibility, bumbling around a world we the audience knew like the back of our hand. His aggressive innocence made it all more palpable and funny as opposed to mean-spirited, which is what he’s become — a domineering force in Zamunda’s patriarchal society. Neither Zamunda nor the new cast of characters come close to matching the wits of Akeem and Semmi’s past road-trip. Lavelle feels undeveloped; whip-smart and socially conscious one minute, a complete buffoon the next. His romance is not remotely as interesting as his father’s, and Headley’s Lisa gets one moment to shine — and when she does, she’s piss-drunk.

If Coming to America was a full-course comedy meal, offering an engaging plot, amiable humor, and resonant drama, Coming 2 America, by comparison, is the equivalent of three-day old leftovers. Some will feel a nostalgic wave wash over them revisiting Zamunda and seeing one of Murphy’s most iconic characters, sure. But a sequel that lingered in development hell for three decades should be far more polished and entertaining than what we ultimately got. This is Dumb and Dumber To territory as opposed to Bill & Ted Face the Music.

NOTE: Coming 2 America is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Grade: C-

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