Sitting as an audience of one, at home, watching Coming 2 America makes for a disappointing and rather sad experience - the film being disappointing, the lone viewer having the sad showing. Online, other critics have pointed out that the movie would likely play very well with a crowded screening, applause ringing for every familiar face and reference. This would work much like going to see Next Friday, a not-so-good sequel upon revisit, but a fun one when watching with lots of laughing people. Here, going with the flow of the group would be beneficial for both the film and the moviegoer.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many groups watching Coming 2 America together. Unfortunately, it’s just streaming. Unfortunately, it’s mostly underdone.
Not tacky with the costumes or cast, mind you. Indeed, every character extends their personality and their emotions at any given moment with what they’re wearing and how they’re wearing it all. This is a credit to designer Ruth E. Carter, who as always puts her passion for cinema and for extending the story onto and outward from the people within, into every design she conceives. For Coming 2 America, she’s challenged with multiple strings, from the time gap between movies to the cultural differences between American and multiple African styles, to matching the tonal resonance each scene is meant to project. She’s working overtime, and working with fire.
Eddie Murphy was the stoic fish out of water type in the original, soaking in a new setting with courage and even some aloofness. In this sequel, he’s primarily just stoic and static, with little room to budge. Of course, his character Akeem is decades older and a father now, so don’t dismiss his steadiness with tiredness. The regular players like John Amos and James Earl Jones are wonderful to catch, but the members of the cast who truly shine are the women, from original cast member Shari Headley and the profoundly perfect Leslie Jones to the younger crowd of Kiki Layne and Nomzamo Mbatha, who are downright badass and electric in equal measure.
But, for its slightly over ninety-minute duration, Coming 2 America is first, foremost, and nearly entirely a nostalgically inclined rehash, flipped on its own head at an uncomfortable angle. Things happen - many times, over and over - just for the sake of being pointed out as something we would recognize. Lines of dialogue are lifted wholesale, characters come back just to repeat bits they did before, and scenes from the original play again in flashback - which go on longer than needed. The story itself has little stakes, and what arcs that do exist are resolved ever so quickly. A movie like this shouldn’t rely almost all on fluff, but it does in more ways than expected - despite some cleverness and moments of real celebration.
One clever joke involves the almost bride from the arranged marriage at the beginning of the original. Here, after all these years, she is still hopping and barking like a dog. New jokes, like one involving a circumcision ceremony, are most welcome. And the finish of the film, a big wedding reception of old and new faces, is absolutely darling. There are spots of silly reference during the party, but it’s all in good fun and not show-stopping, as it was in other scenes.
They were always in good fun. The whole movie is in good fun. And everyone making it is having fun, very clearly. It doesn’t entirely work, and it does become grating too many times, but Coming 2 America is not without its charms, and not without some genuine bright spots. Some are fewer and farther between than others, but at least we have them.
Someday soon, hopefully, we’ll have some crowds to watch movies with. Movies like this one. And it’ll all be fun, through and through.
Based out of “Hollywood South” New Orleans, Bill Arceneaux has written about movies and moviegoing for publications like Big Easy Magazine, Film Threat, Bayou Brief, Occupy, DIG Baton Rouge, OffBeat Magazine, The Hammond Daily Star, and others since 2011. A member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and Rotten Tomatoes approved, his favorite films range from APOCALYPSE NOW to ROMAN HOLIDAY, depending on which way the wind blows. Find out about his latest exploits on Twitter at @BillReviews,