Thirty-three years ago, the ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy flick, Coming to America hit cinemas. It was made at the perfect time too, as director John Landis was riding high after a string of successful and popular comedy films. Then there was its main star, Eddie Murphy. For me, this was Murphy at his very finest. Coming to America fast became one of my all-time favourite comedy movies ever, still is too. Now, a little over three decades later, we have Coming 2 America. Same title, just written in that really obnoxious and annoying way of using numbers for letters/words. Was Coming to America II such a bad title? In fact, I’ll be calling the film Coming to America II for this review from now on.
This sequel has been a long time coming, with news of it being worked on several years ago. It had many false starts and for a while, it very much looked like a dead project. But here it finally is and with pretty much all of the original cast back too (sadly, Madge Sinclair who played Queen Aoleon died in 1995). But gone is the original’s director, John Landis… And that instantly put a huge cloud of uncertainty over the film for me. Then there’s the rating. The original flick was rated for adults due to nudity and swearing, but this sequel was given a more tame PG-13. And of course, let’s not forget that (let’s be honest) these sequels to films made decades after the original very rarely, if ever, work.
So, as an avid fan of the first Coming to America, will I enjoy this sequel? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Order a McDowell’s, get some Soul Glo for my hair and watch Coming to America II myself.
Quick pre-warning. There could be some slight SPOILERS here. So if you don’t want anything ruined, stop reading now.
King Jaffe Joffer is on his death bed and reveals that Akeem has a son called Lavelle that he never knew about, living in America. Needing a male heir to the throne (as is tradition) and seeing as Akeem (now King) only had three daughters, he has to go back to America and bring his bastard son (that’s what he’s constantly called in the film) to Zamunda to be Prince and heir to the throne. Meanwhile, evil General Izzi (who is the brother of Akeem’s arranged bride from the first flick) turns up to cause trouble with the royal family, wanting to take over Zamunda for himself. With Akeem’s son and native New Yorker in Zamunda, the challenge is to turn him from a typical New York street-rat to a Prince.
In fact, now thinking about the plot and the film’s awkward title. This really should’ve been called Coming to Zamunda, because that’s basically what it is. Coming to America but with the fish-out-of-water trope flipped to the Americans in Africa. In fact, I’ll be calling this film Coming to Zamunda for this review from now on. Because let’s be honest, it’s a far better and more accurate title than Coming 2 America.
As I said in the intro, pretty much the entire original cast returned for the sequel, even some of the smaller actors came back over three decades later. Of course, we have both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall return as all of their previous roles… All of them. There’s even a new character played by Hall too. Shari Headley as Lisa is back and now Queen of Zamunda. Paul Bates also returns as the royal aide, Oha. And all of them do a great job of sliding back into their respective roles and ones they haven’t played for over thirty years.
Along for the ride are a handful of new characters. Jermaine Fowler plays the bastard son, Lavelle Junson, with Leslie Jones playing his mother, Mary. Wesley Snipes plays bad guy General Izzi and (spoilers), he steals the entire film.
Okay, let’s get the bad out of the way first. Leslie Jones is not funny, she actually manages to suck the comedy out of everything she’s in. She can’t act and her only ‘joke’ is that she screams her dialogue as she tries to be the loudest person in any film she ever does. Why people keep hiring Jones I have no idea, she’s shit! And I quite liked the Ghostbusters remake… Where Leslie Jones screamed her way through the film.
The fact this sequel has a lower age rating that the original is also a sore point. The first Coming to America was rated for adults due to the nudity and swearing. The nudity was so slight, a few seconds of Akeem’s bathers at the beginning that it’s not really missed here. But, I do have an issue with the lack of swearing in the sequel. Swearing can be really effective when used properly and Coming to America used it brilliantly. A couple of instances that spring to mind are when Akeem is in New York and talking to his neighbours, wishing them a good morning. He gets a “Fuck you!” retort, for Akeem to reply with the classic, “Yes, yes and fuck you too!”. It’s a great joke because Akeem doesn’t understand swearing, he’s proudly screaming “fuck you!” thinking it’s a term of endearment and the way Eddie Murphy plays it by speaking so proudly just adds to the humour. Then there’s the old guys in the barbershop. They get into an argument and the main guy, Clarence (Murphy) just screams “Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you… who’s next?”. It’s that quick switch of character from swearing old man, to nice and polite barber that makes the joke work. The quick jump from “fuck you” to smiling, softly spoken barber makes me laugh every time and it worked because of the swearing. After seeing a really bad TV edit, trust me, it’s the swearing that sells the joke.
The lack of swearing in Coming to Zamunda really does damage what could’ve been a much funnier flick. Now, there is some swearing in the film (mainly the word bastard), it’s just not used as well, as much nor is it as effective when it feels so diluted. I never understand why directors/producers do softer sequels to adult films, it makes no sense. Those who watched and loved the original did so because it was more adult for an adult audience. So why make a sequel that isn’t as adult if your audience is an adult one? And even if you were a kid when you saw the first flick (I was around 13-14), you’re an adult now thirty-two years later. So make the film for adults.
This film just lacks any truly great laughs and most of the jokes are poorly written and executed. I mean, there’s a part in the flick where a character talks about how great American cinema is. And they get the retort of:
“What do we have besides superhero shit, remakes and sequels to old movies nobody asked for?”
Seriously? You really want to try to get meta and trump folk who are inevitably going to call this it for what it is? I’m sure that on paper, that joke looked good. But in practice, it’s just terrible and a real eye-rolling moment. The only time I genuinely smiled at Coming to Zamunda was when it referenced the original, something it actually does really damn well. There are loads of nods and references and admittedly, some of them are really bloody clever too. So much so that I don’t actually want to spoil them here. But there is a scene I really need to address and spoil.
So, you are probably questioning just how did Akeem sire a son, thirty years ago during the events of the first film? Well, that’s covered in both a brilliant and really stupid scene. There’s a flashback to the club scene from the original film. You know the one where Akeem and Semmi are looking for possible brides? Anyway, new footage has been shot and some de-ageing (cos every film does that now) tech is used to show what ‘really’ happened that night. So, it turns out that Semmi wanted to dip his wick, so he found a woman, Mary (Leslie Jones) to keep Akeem busy while he got busy himself. While back at their apartment (lovingly recreated from the first film, complete with chalk lines of the dead guy and his dog), Mary drugs and ‘takes advantage’ of Akeem, becoming pregnant with his son.
The scene is actually really well done, what with the whole de-ageing and all that… But, it also annoyed me for a couple of reasons, not just because they’ve changed the background song (think I wouldn’t notice eh?) First, the first film specifically shows that Akeem and Semmi return home very much dateless from the club, no women. They go from the club and bump into Clarence from the barbershop, who tells them they can find good women at the pageant he is going to. And that is where Akeem sees Lisa for the first time. But this film retcons that to say that Akeem and Semmi don’t talk to Clarence as they go back to their apartment with two women. So if they don’t speak to Clarence, they don’t go to the pageant and Akeem doesn’t see Lisa and fall in love. That’s a gaping plot hole that I just could not get over. Plus, Semmi very clearly states in the first film that he’s not had sex since arriving in New York, but this film now says different. Come on, fans are going to pick up on this haphazard/lazy writing pretty quickly.
The other major issue is one I found in another film recently too. Mary drugs and (essentially) rapes Akeem. He doesn’t consent to the sex, he is raped. Akeem himself even says he wasn’t ‘willing’ and that he has no knowledge of the sex happening in the film. Just like the random guy in the recent Wonder Woman flick. Seriously, why is the sexual assault of men becoming a thing in films now? Flip that scenario with a male drugging a female and having sex with her and they’d be outrage. As I said, as good as the re-edited club scene is on a technical level, it really fucks up quite a bit.
By the time the film ended, I felt like I had already seen it. Now, I don’t mean due to all the beats it rehashed from the original (of which there’s a lot), more like the film in general just felt like I had seen it before. It took me a while to work out where I had seen Coming to Zamunda before and it wasn’t until I was writing this review when it hit me. Coming to Zamunda is basically Crocodile Dundee II. Look, you have the first film where the fish-out-of-water goes from his own country and taken to America… Particularly New York. The fish-out-of-water does exactly what fish-out-of-water do, they feel uncomfortable, have trouble fitting in and all that guff. But finds love along the way. Then the sequel rolls around and things get switched up a tad as the native New Yorker is taken from their home, to the unfamiliar surroundings of the original’s fish-out-of-water’s home. Mick Dundee did it with Sue in Crocodile Dundee II in that film. And Akeem does the exact same thing to his son, Lavelle, in this flick. Coming to Zamunda is a Crocodile Dundee II remake, just with a lot of references to Coming to America.
To be honest, I went into this with low expectations. The original flick really is one of my favourite comedy films, one that was made at the upmost optimum time, a time when the cast and crew were riding high. There’s no way a sequel could ever match up to its greatness. Still, Coming to Zamunda, despite its various shortcomings (Leslie Jones being the biggest), did manage to make me smile a few times. It doesn’t have the impact the first film had and it is just a rehash of the original’s plot too. Perhaps a little too heavy on the nostalgia in some places and a sequel that would’ve been better off existing twenty years ago. But still, it was okay, just a shame it wasn’t more ‘adult’, I really miss those arguing and swearing barbershop guys. They are in this sequel… But it’s clear they’ve had their balls cut off sometime in the last thirty years. Coming to Zamunda is more of a slightly likeable nostalgia trip with some quite honestly great, clever cameos and references than a good sequel. The set designs and costumes in Zamunda are really stunning. Oh, and Wesley Snipes is awesome.
Another disappointment is that, while the original film’s director, John Landis, is gone, taking on the job is Craig Brewer. Now, Brewer recently directed Eddie Murphy in the 2019 biopic, Dolemite Is My Name… Which is brilliant. So it’s a shame for them to have not captured that magic again for this flick. But I can’t really blame either the star or director when it’s very clearly the lazy, sloppy, plot hole creating and rehashed writing that is to blame.
If the original Coming to America was a McDonald’s Big Mac meal, then Coming to Zamunda is a McDowell’s Big Mic meal. A lower quality and questionable copy, but still digestible. It’s worth one view just for the cameos and references to the first film, just don’t expect much more out of the film than that. Still, at least Coming to Zamunda wasn’t as bad as the TV pilot.