When Craig Brewer last paired up with Eddie Murphy, it was in the wonderful and very funny Dolemite in My Name. The 2019 biopic of Rudy Ray Moore marked a return to form for Murphy after a long string of underwhelming comedies. Now they have paired up to retread the joys of the 1988 comedy Coming To America. The magic does not return, unfortunately.
This unfocused sequel arrives 33 years later. The film even pokes fun at itself for being a sequel to a beloved classic that no one was asking for. That does not excuse itself for lazily recycling several elements from the first film. However, the real reason this new film doesn't work is Murphy. He can't hide his lack of excitement for rehashing the character of Akeem. Gone is the energy, joy, and charm of the original performance.
In the sequel, Akeem Joffer is the proud father of three kick-ass daughters. He is happy with Lisa (Shari Headley), the love of his life who he courted in the first film. When his father Jaffe (James Earl Jones) passes, Akeem is charged with finding an heir to his throne. Just in the nick of time, he learns of a bastard son to whom he can train to become a prince. His trusted sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall) reminds him of a time back when they were in New York where Akeem got high and slept with Mary (Leslie Jones). Turns out he knocked her up and so Akeem is off to America to get his son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler).
It is a messy premise that largely uses this plot to bring back bits from the original film. The film features a slew of cameos and a performance by Salt N' Pepa and En Vogue. Yet these are only used to fill up the time. Lavelle is brought back to Zamunda to train as a prince. He begins to fall for his groomer Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha). The trouble is the two don't have much chemistry. This comes down to Fowler who has none of the charm or likeability that Murphy had. The premise doesn't help this by reversing the fish out of water story. An African prince in Queens can come off as innocent and well-intentioned. Lavelle, an American in Africa, comes off as brash and bratty, so entitled that he nearly walks away from being prince over and over again.
Murphy's low energy extends to the reprise of several roles, including the barbershop employees from the original film. The one performance full of energy here is Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, who threatens to go to war with Akeem if he does not find an heir. Snipes is flamboyant and wild and brings so much welcomed verve to the film.
Coming 2 America ditches the R rating for a more marketable PG-13 rating. One of the most winning aspects of the first film was watching Akeem's enthusiastic innocence rub against the roughness of New York City. This sequel feel neutered by going for a wider audience. It exchanges those rougher elements for scatological humor. Overall, the film isn't without laughs and a few nice moments where we revisit these characters. It isn't a disaster entirely but also fails to capture any of the magic of the original.