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Review: Nostalgia is the name of the game for “Coming 2 America”

Hewing to the original film’s flavor while trying to appeal to today’s audience is Akeem’s most prominent conflict.

By Hilary Van Hoose, Special to the Star

Arsenio Hall (left) and Eddie Murphy (right) star in the sequel to the 1988 film, "Coming to America." (Photo Courtesy of Amazon)

“Coming 2 America” follows familiar protagonist Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), who upon becoming King Akeem is distraught at not having a male heir to the throne, but then discovers long-lost son Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) in Queens and once again journeys from the fictional kingdom of Zamunda to New York City with servant and sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to find him.

In the original film, Prince Akeem refuses an arranged marriage and travels to the royal sounding borough of Queens with Semmi to find a wife who will be not only his lover, but his partner and friend.

Walking the fine line between inoffensive spectacle entertainment and revivals of older jokes that may rub the sensibilities of modern viewers the wrong way, this sequel to the 1988 romantic comedy “Coming to America” premiered on Amazon Prime the first week of March with a promise of entertaining existing fans of the original film and attracting new audiences who love 1980s nostalgia.

The heart of the story revolves around the parallel storylines of Akeem’s two oldest children, Lavelle and Princess Meeka (Kiki Layne). The theme of Lavelle’s story mirrors that of Akeem in the first movie, of choosing one’s own destiny. Meeka’s storyline is about her resentment for having trained to lead her country her whole life only to be replaced by her American half-brother. Rather than making the movie about her father changing the laws so that his worthy daughter would succeed him, Meeka instead helps Lavelle qualify to become her future king. The film also sprinkles other half-hearted nods to gender equality into several scenes, some more awkwardly than others, where references to moments from the original film that haven’t aged well in today’s culture are either gender-flipped or otherwise lampshaded as a winking acknowledgement to the audience about the problematic or controversial nature of certain jokes.

Most viewers will come to see the nods to familiar jokes and characters from the original film, impressive cameo appearances, and musical showstoppers with elaborate costumes - and they certainly won’t be disappointed. Just the first act of the film features musical performances by Gladys Knight, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa. Throughout the movie, everyone from the original film including the elderly men of the barber shop to the rapping twins in the night club drop in for some fun. The film even gave a sentimental nod to Queen Aoleon (Madge Sinclair) in a key scene that mirrored one from the original. New to Zamunda are comedic stars Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes and other notable actors in supporting roles. Murphy’s real-life daughter Bella Murphy makes an appearance as on-screen daughter Princess Omma. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the film is the costume design by Ruth E. Carter, who viewers might remember as creating the Oscar winning wardrobe for Black Panther. Her designs for “Coming 2 America” are eye-popping and creative, if sometimes comically impractical (viz. Bopoto’s party headdress).

If the film’s goals are to be entertaining to all, to be relatively inoffensive while still satisfying fans of the original film, and to enthusiastically celebrate Black pop culture, then “Coming 2 America” is a rousing success. In a time when many viewers understandably crave the escapism of a fun and flashy film with nary a hard edge or harsh thought, this movie absolutely delivers.

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