Midway through Coming 2 America, sequel to the 1988 Coming To America, there is a meta-line about the putrid repetition of American cinema— “Superhero shit and remakes and sequels to old movies no one asked for.” That’s the kind of film this is—dispensable, but deeply self-aware of its dispensableness. We must contend with and concede to a culture where a sequel isn’t necessarily a sign of a great idea rooting itself deeper to fan out its nuance and characterization, but an excuse to recycle an aesthetic, an idea that has the cultural cachet of the moment. Netflix churned a dime a dozen since their 2018 Summer of Love, with teenage love figuring as the common denominator.
In the first film, Prince Akeem, of the African kingdom (country?) of Zamunda, rejects a prospect for a wife for being too docile, and without a will and a mind of her own. He is given 40 days to find himself a suitable bride and ships off to Queens, New York, to find himself the wife, to be Princess, and to be, one day, Queen.
Coming 2 America begins with Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and Princess Lisa (Shari Headley) celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. The prince, about to be king, with three daughters, is confronted by two facts—his lack of a male heir which is requirement per laws of succession, and that when he went to Queens to find himself a wife, one night under the influence of “ceremonial herbs” he hooked up with a woman who gave birth to a male child, his bastard heir that he must now find, bring back, and crown the prince of Zamunda. Jermaine Fowler plays the son, Lavelle Junson. Lavelle is a bit of a drifter, first seen interviewing for a position with a stereotypically entitled white man with patronizing racism. He tells him off and walks out, giving a glimpse of gumption that we hope he will bring to Zamunda plagued by its aged excuses for sexism that it mistakes for tradition.
The film takes nothing but its royalty seriously, which is why a blossoming love between Lavelle and his lover is given a hand-waving treatment, a mere dialogue exchange through which their love is established, sealed with a kiss. The fixation on court intrigue gives the impression that Zamunda begins and ends on the palace grounds. The humour itself, like the monarchy, like the subtext, like the musical nature of the film which occasionally bursts into song and coordinated dance, is lite. There’s nothing, no moment, no dialogue, no joke even, that stains beyond the moment it’s performed. The scene with Prince Akeem’s father, the king, overlooking his own funeral doesn’t have the bite or the humour or the fabulous theatrics of dance to make any impression. A lite-ness that feels longer, and thus more tedious than it needed to be.
The occasional delights like Tracy Morgan and Trevor Noah help poke into the lite proceedings, and the glamour — glorious headdresses, sparkling gold capes, gem crusted crowns, and flowing fabrics — keeps the visuals from collapsing into monotony like it did in The Princess Switch movie series; there’s even a lion and a gigantic elephant thrown in to pad the Wildest Dreams view of Africa.
The humour is more outrageous and physical than subtle and verbal, one even involving a castration. The cuss words too, like calling someone the sweat from a baboon’s balls, has the poetic cadence and visual specificity to make one take a note to use this at an opportune moment. The outrageous too, smacks its lips—- a daughter performs a mating dance in front of her father, a mother talks of having ridden smooth scabbards in her youth in front of her son, and a father tells his children to go shake their booties on the dance floor. But even so, the smacking of its lips leaves behind no taste.
There’s also a preoccupation with hair, integral to the African identity, shaped by both the desire to be symbolic and to be aesthetic. Which is exactly what the film was going for. To be a black bastion against the white onslaught and monopoly of the rom-com or even the com genre. To be fabulous, breast baring, unapologetic, loud and not self-serious. It’s all great, but the humour padding the great intent should have been great too.