Even if you didn’t grow up playing your parents’ VHS copy of Coming to America at least once a week, you more than likely know that 1988 classic Eddie Murphy comedy by heart. If you ever said any variation of “Just let your soul glow,” “She’s your queen to be,” “Is that velvet?,” “That boy good!” or “Sexual! Chocolate!,” or if you ever dressed like the people of Zamunda for Halloween ala Beyonce and Jay-Z and if you ever went to Wiener’s Circle when they cosplayed as McDowell’s, you know the impact of that movie. 

However the sequel, Coming 2 America, which premieres on Amazon Prime on March 5, doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. There’s a tension in Coming 2 America, as the movie (which is rated PG-13) toes the line between capturing the irreverent, R-rated spark that made the first movie work so well while also updating its humor to make it more acceptable for a wider audience. 

For better or worse, there are some jokes that worked in1988 that simply don’t fly in 2021. And it ultimately ends up just falling flat, as the jokes feel somehow strangely both offensive and yet not pushed far enough. Plus the improvisational and unpredictable chemistry between Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall takes a back seat to the movie’s other co-star, Jermaine Fowler, best known for his starring role in the CBS television show “Superior Donuts.”

In the original, Eddie Murphy stars as Prince Akeem of the fictional African country of Zamunda, who rejects a wife approved by his father, (James Earl Jones, who returns in the sequel) and decides to travel to America—specifically Queens, New York—to find a wife and true love. Arsenio Hall co-stars as his loyal confidante Semmi, and together the two play a variety of characters, including old heads in a barbershop, a corrupt storefront preacher and a way-past-his-prime Jheri-curled singer.

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

All of those characters and more return for the sequel, directed by Craig Brewer, who also directed Eddie Murphy in the winning 2019 biopic Dolemite Is My Name. In the sequel, Prince Akeem becomes king of Zamunda and needs a new heir to stave off a hostile takeover from General Izzi who rules Nextdoria, the country that borders Zamunda. 

Izzi is played with almost childlike glee by Wesley Snipes, who looks like he is having the time of his life. Akeem’s eldest daughter Meeka (played by Kiki Layne, who brings a wonderful gravitas to the role) seems to be the best bet to become heir to the kingdom. But Zamundan tradition mandates that only a son can become heir. And it turns out Akeem does have a son, the product of a one-night stand he had when he first went to Queens 30 years ago.

What makes Coming to America so enjoyable is its mixture of blunt, profane humor, the comic chemistry between Murphy and Hall, and a believable and genuinely sweet love story, which relies on the romantic chemistry between Murphy and Shari Headley, who reprises her role as Lisa McDowell. 

And of course, the whole film is carried by Murphy’s charm and unpredictable charisma, which always shines through in every role he takes — even if the film doesn’t always live up to his abilities as a performer.

Teyana Taylor and Wesley Snipes star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Unfortunately, that mixture of the sweet and the profane, as well as a charismatic lead, are missing in the Coming 2 America sequel. It’s telling that the sequel is rated PG-13, while the original is rated R, which means a lot of the humor feels watered down and doesn’t push the envelope the way the original did. 

For example, the barbershop old heads are back, but they don’t say anything as ridiculous but also as believable as “Dr. King never had a messy Jheri curl!” No one gets cursed out and called a “motherfucker” eight ways to Sunday. Instead we get some retrograde jokes where they refer to Akeem and Semmi as famous Africans in a group including Idi Amin and Nelson and Winnie Mandela, which felt predictable and obvious.

We get Akeem continuously referring to his son (played by Fowler) as “his bastard son,” which I guess is supposed to be edgy and funny, but doesn’t get pushed any further beyond that. And overall, trying to update a movie from the 1980s about a fictional African country for the 21st century feels fruitless. 

This is perhaps not the most fair comparison since Black Panther is part of the Marvel-Disney behemoth and its director Ryan Coogler had the time, money and access to resources that Craig Brewer more than likely did not.

Eddie Murphy and Jermaine Fowler COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Leslie Jones and Jermaine Fowler stars in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

But after seeing the care that went into making Wakanda, another fictional African country, seem believable, how the accents were based on the South African Xhosa language and how the production design was modeled after real countries and real cities throughout the African continent, the vagueness of the look, feel, and accents of Zamunda don’t feel acceptable anymore.

And the decision to have Murphy and Hall and all of their characters take a back seat to Jermaine Fowler was a poor one. Fowler is a wonderful stand-up comedian, and has great stage presence. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t translate into this movie. His chemistry with his co-stars is lacking and he simply doesn’t have the same larger-than-life movie star quality to carry this movie the way Eddie Murphy did in the original. 

At one point, two characters from the movie cheekily mention that American movies rely too much on sequels. “Why ruin the original?” they say. Coming 2 America is no danger of ruining the original because there just isn’t anything memorable enough from this movie that would sour the goodwill people have for the original. But there is also not really much to make the sequel stand on its own and become a classic in its own right.

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.