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'Coming 2 America' review: Lazy, charmless sequel to Eddie Murphy's classic comedy

Eddie Murphy stars in "Coming 2 America."

Eddie Murphy stars in "Coming 2 America." Credit: Paramount Pictures/Quantrell D. Colbert

PLOT An African king discovers that his long-ago sojourn to America produced a son.

CAST Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler

RATED PG-13 (some crass talk)

LENGTH 1:48

WHERE Amazon Prime Video

BOTTOM LINE A lazy and charmless sequel to one of Murphy’s best movies.

You never know what you’ll get with an Eddie Murphy movie. Will he be the firework comedic talent of "Beverly Hills Cop," the surprisingly Serious Actor who wowed critics in "Dreamgirls" or the lowbrow clown of "The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps?"

All three Murphys showed up in 1988’s "Coming to America," which may explain why the movie remains one of his strongest. The story of the African Prince Akeem, who flees an arranged marriage to find true love in New York City, "Coming to America" turned Murphy into a genuine romantic lead, allowing him moments of screwball charm and vulnerability but also indulging his love of ridiculous costumes; Roosevelt native Murphy also played a greasy soul-singer, Randy Watson, and an old kvetch named Saul, among others. Under John Landis’ direction, "Coming to America" became a major hit and one of the first mainstream Black romantic comedies.

Sadly, "Coming 2 America" is another one of those sequels that will sour your memory of a beloved original. Murphy returns as Akeem, now King of Zamunda, with three daughters by Lisa, his queen from Queens (Shari Headley). Akeem regrets that he has no male heir — that is, until he discovers the existence of his American son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), the product of a stoned evening with sex worker Mary Junson (an underused Leslie Jones). Lavelle is a street-smart kid — never mind that he's technically 32 — who must adapt to the strange ways of Zamunda.

Screenwriter Kenya Barris (original writers David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein are also credited), is reusing the father-son premise from his lackluster "Shaft" (2019), and the results here are even worse. "Coming 2 America" feels like a mass of weak material thrown randomly at the screen by director Craig Brewer (Murphy’s "Dolemite Is My Name"). Depending on the moment, Lavelle is either a cocky hip-hopper, a bright young go-getter or an at-risk youth. Like his father, he has been promised to a bride, the daughter of the mad General Izzi (a welcome Wesley Snipes, literally cavorting in the role), but he’ll find love elsewhere, with the royal hairdresser, Merimbe (Nomzamo Mbatha). Meanwhile, Akeem’s firstborn daughter, Meeka (KiKi Layne), is understandably enraged that a man will now take her place on the throne. None of it jibes or jells in any way.

Much of the original film’s tenderness came from Akeem’s respect for women; he wanted a soul mate, not a helpmate. Here, Akeem backslides into chauvinism as a plot device, but the film unconsciously slides with him. Barris’ screenplay introduces several strong women, including Akeem’s middle daughter, Omma, a martial-arts warrior who wears STEM-signifying glasses. (She’s played by Murphy’s real daughter Bella.) Once these females telegraph their gender parity, however, they politely disappear. Meanwhile, Lavelle’s mom is mostly a walking "ho" joke and Queen Lisa barely exists. As for Merimbe, I’m not sure anyone ever addresses her by name; she’s just Lavelle’s girlfriend.

It’s nice to see much of the original cast again, from the likable Arsenio Hall as Semmi, Akeem’s loyal friend, to the deadpan Paul Bates as Oha, the singing royal servant. As for Murphy, fair warning: You know which one you’re getting.

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