The second coming of Eddie Murphy didn’t quite go as planned; Craig Brewer’s Dolomite Is My Name didn’t snare the expected Oscar nomination for the star, and re-teaming with Brewer for sequel Coming 2 America didn’t ring box office bells due to the worldwide pandemic. A fire sale to Amazon Prime for a reported $125 million puts the continuing adventures of Prince Akeen of Zamunda directly into our living rooms, with Murphy now off to film Beverly Hills Cop IV, but there are signs that the general public may not be down to clown with Murphy any more.
A smoking hot comic in clubs and on tv via Saturday Night Live, Murphy’s initial cinematic offerings were incendiary (48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop) but by the time of The Golden Child and Coming to America, the star’s controlling influence had turned things sour. Playing multiple characters instead of coming up with jokes, Murphy became a parody of himself, and successes have been thin on the ground; the voice of the donkey in Shrek doesn’t count. Coming 2 America’s sequel attempts to capture the old magic, but age and time have not been kind to the formula, and much of Brewer’s film sees Murphy playing straight-man to others, never a good idea. There’s also a wealth of strained exposition and world building that works against any laughs; the consideration of the Zamunda’s royal family’s rules doesn’t carry much weight as something to structure a story around. Akeen (Murphy) discovers he has a male heir named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) who is discovered in the same area of Queens where Akeen previously visited. Akeen brings the boy home and subjects him to many of the same tests and educational experiences that featured in the first movie.
Let’s look at the credit sheet. If the main story forces an Eddie Murphy movie where there’s a lack of Eddie Murphy, there are more than a few passing compensations; cameos from everyone from Salt-N-Pepa to Gladys Knight, Morgan Freeman swearing in the out-takes, Wesley Snipes in a kilt, and SNL’s Colin Jost as a token white guy who responds amusingly to black-face allegations (”I was meant to be Will Smith in Aladdin!’) In fact, most of the cultural references, from Benson to Idi Amin, seem to land, and it’s fun to see a Wakanda meets Liberace in Vegas country where Prince’s Get Off is seen as a ceremonial tune for the palace.
Coming 2 America is very much a reprise of the first film, but struggling for laughs with Murphy cast as the straight man rather than the comic, it’s left to his side-line latex-heavy impressions to carry the comic weight, namely the barbershop oldies and a very out-of-date Rick James parody named Randy Watson and his band Sexual Chocolate. Newer talents like Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan seem somewhat at sea here, and it’s hard to imagine that theatrical would have been kind to Brewer’s film. Murphy had it, he lost it, and now, he just wants to party all the time. That’s fine, and he’s in good company, but it’s a tall order to expect audiences to feel the same way with such re-treaded routines and shop-worn gags as displayed here. Sure, it’s enticing to see Jones do the Humpty Dance, but scene after scene of Zamunda’s royal intrigue saps the enthusiasm before the party finally ends.