With Coming 2 America (yeesh the “2/TO” pun needs to die a horrible death) coming this Friday on Amazon Prime, I thought it might be worth looking back at this classic with a retro review Coming To America.
In the 80s, I’m not sure there was a bigger star than Eddie Murphy. Schwarzenegger had a few years in the beginning as more of a B movie star before breaking through with The Terminator, Willis wasn’t big until Die Hard in 1988, Stallone had a mess of crap to compliment his Rambo and Rocky series, and while Tom Cruise had Risky Business, he really couldn’t be called a superstar until 1986 with Top Gun.
No, Eddie started out on top in 1982 with 48 Hours and then continued to have nothing but hits (Best Defense notwithstanding) with Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop II, Raw, and even Harlem Nights, though that last one was a financial success, it was the beginning of the end.
In 1988, he made a somewhat different movie than he had made in the past, Coming To America. Teaming up with Trading Places director John Landis, he made a modern-day fairy-tale that was a huge success and showcased his many comedic talents.
It was the first movie where Eddie played multiple roles, something he would later employ in Norbit and more effectively in The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger.
It starts with Eddie playing prince Akeem in a fictional Africa country called Zamunda. It’s awash in money so I’m assuming blood diamonds. Akeem has hit his 21st birthday and while he enjoys some of the pampering, he’s beginning to chafe in not being able to do things for himself. Most pointedly, he’s expected to meet a wife that’s been chosen for him.
He tells his parents what he thinks and after meeting his soon to be wife (who barks on command) he again expresses his concerns. His father, misunderstanding, tells him to go sow his wild oats and return in 40 days when he will be married.
Akeem decides he will use the time to find someone he can love, a woman with her own mind. Accompanying him is Semi (Arsenio Hall) and they head to New York to find a queen. In Queens, naturally. Retro review coming to america
From there you get the requisite fish out of water comedy as Akeem tries to pass himself off as a poor man so he will know his wife will love him for him, and not for who he is. He gets a job at McDowells, a restaurant in constant danger of being sued out of existence by McDonalds. It’s owned by Cleo McDowell (John Amos) who is a little too concerned with making sure his daughter Lisa is married to someone rich. His heart is in the right place, he just doesn’t want his daughters to struggle.
His daughter works with him at the restaurant and Akeem is immediately taken with her. She’s currently dating Darrel Soul Glo. I think that’s his actual name. His family got rich from selling Soul Glo and really dates the hell out of this movie yet is still pretty funny.
Along the way, Akeem meets the barbershop characters, one played by Arsenio and two by Murphy himself. His completely unrecognizable as the old Jewish guy. All are damn funny, arguing who is the better boxer and what not.
Murphy and Hall play various other characters in Queens and they are all pretty hilarious. At one point Akeem gives a sizable amount of money to two bums who turn out to Mortimer and Randolph from Trading Places which makes me wonder if Eddie Valentine would show up.
Eh, it’s probably all in Tommy Westfall’s mind anyway. Retro review coming to america
Of course, it all works out and is somewhat predictable but it’s the comedy that continues to hold up and the depth of characters that make it work. Lisa is a great girl that is nice but the audience is never told much more about her. Her father has more depth and John Amos really sells it. He seems to be all about the money until the king insults his daughter. Then no amount of money can stop McDowell from beating the hell out of the king, international incident or no.
(John Amos is one of the guys that when angry literally scares the shit of me. But he’s great in everything he does.)
James Earl Jones plays the king, wearing a big lion pelt over his perfect suit foreshadowing his part in The Lion King just a few years later. Madge Sinclair does fine as his wife.
Watching this again after probably over a decade ago really took me back. I found myself laughing at things I forgot and caring more about the characters than most things made now. There’s a lot of quiet moments in the movie and I forget how bombastic so many movies are these days.
But mostly is still made me laugh as any good comedy should. It’s very rewatchable.
So with most of the cast back for this sequel, am I excited? In a word, no. These dips back to the well rarely net anything successful and usually just dampens your enjoyment of the original. So if you like the original, I suggest watching it now before you can never watch it again the same way once the sequel comes out.
But who knows? Maybe it will work.