JOHANNESBURG – Coming 2 America fails to revive the enchanting Afrocentric charm and charisma that a young Eddie Murphy oozed in the original film more than 30 years ago.
Moreover, the film that reunites original cast members Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley and James Earl Jones, lacks a cool edge. Often you feel like the sequel is still trapped in 1988.
At fault is the Hollywood clichÃ©-stuffed screenplay that thrives on negative stereotypes about Africa. The one-dimensional depiction of Africa is eye-roll inducing and triggers an “oh geez, here we go again” reaction.
The biggest letdown about the comedy, directed by Craig Brewer, is that it could have been more conscious, dynamic, nuanced and modern.
Take for instance the McDonald’s in the fictional African kingdom Zamunda offering a special “leafy” burger that has no meat and is made out of “good ol’ grass”. Such punch-lines are a punch to the gut of Africans. The ’80s called and they want their narrow-minded jokes back.
Africa is not a jungle, where citizens devour grass and pet wild animals like lions. At times it feels like the remake is laughing at Africans instead of laughing with them.
There is also the tone deafness of three African women bathing a male character. The TikTok generation in Africa is blasting amapiano and gqom music, but the score does not mirror that invigorating culture.
As one young character makes fun of Murphy’s newly crowned King Akeem Joffer for using the slang “not on fleek” it ironically sums up the dated spirit of the film.
The premise sees Akeem and his trusted confident Semmi (Hall) return to Queens, New York. But this time they are not in search of a romantic partner for Akeem, but his illegitimate son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler).
Add to the mix Wesley Snipes’s character General Izzi bringing a clash of two dynasties to the table and you are presented with an unoriginal and lacklustre plot twist.
The film relies too much on Fowler to carry it as the new prince of Zamunda and his casting is a misfit. Succeeding Murphy’s unparalleled comedy chops is a tough act to follow and Fowler unsurprisingly flops. It’s hard to comment on Murphy’s performance because he exercises restraint and doesn’t get his feet in the mud.
But the true star of the film is fiery Kiki Layne as Murphy’s daughter Meeka, who gets overlooked – thanks to Zamunda’s long-standing patriarchal tradition to have a male heir.
Layne is memorable and kicks ass, bringing poise and fervour in her approach. Having already made a mark in If Beale Street Could Talk and The Old Guard, Layne further proves why she is the future of Hollywood.
SA actor Nomzamo Mbatha is equally a joy to watch as feisty Mirembe. She brilliantly embodies the vulnerability and strength of an African woman.
No surprise that as soon as Lavella sets his eyes on Mirembe his path takes a rocky turn.
Watch out for a nostalgic musical number that features guest appearances by En Vogue, TLC and Gladys Knight. It is a standout moment that will warm your heart. It’s the kind of groove you wish the film could have maintained.
Masterful costume designer Ruth E. Carter once again dazzles with her dreamy sartorial selections like in Black Panther. Carter’s unique take on African fashion is fantastical. Combine that with the hair story by Stacey Morris and Jefferson Sage’s production design, the result is a feast for the eyes. If not for the script those three elements are enough to keep you entertained until the credits roll. – Sowetan