Zamunda is the fictional African kingdom that comedic genius, Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem, inherited in “Coming to America.” The year was 1988 and this stunning country, in Mother Africa, had never experienced the brutality of colonialism. African traditions and culture were celebrated — on-screen— with pride. Afrocentrism was born in cinema and thirty years later, the world would be introduced to the technological genius of Africans in “Black Panther.”
“Coming 2 America” re-teams Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in their original roles. They are joined by KiKi Layne, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, and Wesley Snipes. So much has changed in America since Akeem stepped into Queens, New York. Yet, the great Zamunda has remained perfectly intact.
“Coming 2 America opens with King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) still on the throne but ailing, and close to death. Understanding that the end is near, the wise king attempts to ensure a smooth transfer of power to his son, Akeem under the country’s patrilineal system. One issue: Akeem and his wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), have three daughters but no male heir — or so they thought.
But the gifted shaman Baba shares a vision, sharing that Akeem has an illegitimate son, a product of a one-night stand. So, Akeem and his best friend, Simmi (Hall) return to Queens, N.Y. to find his son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), and bring him back to accept his destiny. A matter made urgent since General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), despotic warlord of neighboring Nexdoria, wants to make a love-match and join their two kingdoms.
It’s hard to think of “Coming 2 America” as a sequel — so much time has passed from the 1988 orginal — but there is enough meat left from the original that the film falls back on familiar punchlines. Remember McDowells, the urban McDonald’s knockoff? It has a franchise in Zamunda, complete with an African “Ronald McDowell” mascot. One of the most entertaining elements in the film are the musical numbers with appearances by En Vogue and Gladys Knight.
In the role of Lavelle’s mother, Mary, Leslie Jones does a surprisingly good job. Where most of the characters are painted into one-dimensional stereotypes, here, she brings something that makes you lean in. In the role of Lavelle, actor, Jermaine Fowler, is no Eddie Murphy, but in his defense, those are big shoes to fill. He holds his own but barely, almost forgettable, and that’s not the quality of a leading man.
The theme of true love vs. arranged marriage is again explored. Because, if Akeem had stayed in Zamunda, he would have stepped into an arranged marriage. Now playing on Amazon Prime Video, the streaming service canceled a planned theatrical run due to the pandemic, a smart move.
“Coming 2 America,” directed Craig Brewer, who previously worked with Murphy on “Dolemite Is My Name. The screenplay is written by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield.
Visually it’s beautiful especially the bright, eye-catching costumes designed by Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther).“Coming 2 America,” starring 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
Directed by Craig Brewer
Screenplay by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Costume designed by Ruth E. Carter
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes