Making a sequel to a beloved comedy is always tricky. Because most comedies are not built around their plots, there is often no story-based need for a sequel. On top of that, because many comedy sequels follow similar storylines and scenarios to their predecessors, many of the jokes feel stale and unoriginal. Comedy sequels sometimes can work — just look at last year’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” or the wonderfully weird “Wayne’s World 2” — but these films are the exception. Comedy sequels tend to sink more towards the low quality of something like “The Hangover: Part III.”
“Coming 2 America,” thankfully, lands more toward the positive end of the spectrum. It doesn’t work as well as its predecessor, and the film drags on in its second and third acts as the laughs dry up. But what makes it an overall enjoyable experience is how much love those making the film clearly have for the material. Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite is My Name”) has spent much of the last decade enjoying his time as a stay-at-home dad. Despite this obligation, Murphy has made a return in previous years with projects that he seems to really have a passion for. Everyone involved seems to be having a blast making the film, and this joy resonates with the viewer.
“Coming 2 America” is, by one of its character’s own admission, a “sequel 30 years too late that nobody asked for.” The film knows it isn’t reinventing the wheel and decides to have fun with what it is. The opening 15-20 minutes are full of fun, clever callbacks to the original film — including a new McDowell’s restaurant in Zamunda. Fan-favorite supporting characters from the first film also return, and they show they haven’t lost their charm in the last 30 years. The barbershop guys never fail to get a laugh.
The standouts of the film are the new performers. Jermaine Fowler (“Sorry to Bother You”) stars as Lavelle Junson, Prince Akeem’s son, delivering jokes and having a great dynamic with Murphy, while also balancing a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders. The script hinders him at times, but overall he does a great job carrying large chunks of the film. Leslie Jones (“Saturday Night Live”) and Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”) also play supporting roles as Junson’s mother and uncle. They aren’t given a ton to do, as most of the focus is on Junson’s relationship with the royal family, but they show off their trademark energy that allows them to sell lines that wouldn’t be as funny in the hands of lesser performers.
There are still some things that don’t work very well in the film. The film drags when jokes fail to hit. This was an issue with the original film as well, but the joke droughts in this film go on for much longer, and the jokes that do hit aren’t nearly as funny. “Coming 2 America,” like the original, does have story, character drama and somewhat interesting themes to fall back on when the jokes aren’t landing, but none of these aspects of the film are strong enough to make up the difference.
On the whole, “Coming 2 America” is a film that probably doesn’t need to exist, but it is a perfectly pleasant experience to watch. The movie doesn’t try to do anything new or revolutionary, but it does make for a fun time, especially when there aren’t that many new movies releasing. It has plenty for fans of the original movie to enjoy, and the love of the material from the cast and crew radiates a joy that is unique for a cash-grab comedy sequel. The Eddie Murphy renaissance continues, and it will be interesting to see what he decides to do next.
Daily Arts Contributor Mitchel Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.