“COMING 2 AMERICA”: Prince Akeem, Lisa and the others–they’re back!

John Landis’s 1988 smash comedy “Coming to America” was a hilarious feather in the cap for both the filmmaker and Eddie Murphy, who had the starring role.

It was original, and funny, and it relied on well-written and -performed characters. Murphy’s Prince Akeem was a charming fellow that the actor played to the hilt.

Thirty-three years later, Eddie Murphy and cast have returned, guided by the director of the wonderful “Dolemite is My Name,” Craig Brewer.

It is a shame that John Landis did not return to the world he helped create. Landis has always been one of our finest directors of comedy, thanks to his knack for finding the right talent for the proper roles and his skill for sniffing out projects where the humor comes from a good story and well-drawn personalities.

Director Brewer tries to recapture that magic with “Coming 2 America,” a sequel to Landis’s film, albeit one that tries much too hard but finds some good laughs, and a little heart now and again.

Prince Akeem is living the royal life in the nation of Zamunda with his American bride Lisa (Shari Headley, reprising her original role).

His father the King (James Earl Jones) is dying and Akeem will soon take his place on the throne.

Anthony Francis writes about the Craig Brewer-directed “Dolemite is my Name”

Enter General Izzi, the rival leader who taunts Akeem that he has only three daughters and no son to take his throne and inherit the kingdom.

Wesley Snipes plays Izzi in a truly strange comedic performance. I’m not sure whose idea it was to have Snipes doing dance moves and making goofy faces, but it takes you out of the moment every time he is on screen. I have always been a fan of Wesley Snipes and feel he has given many great performances. I even called for an Oscar nomination for his great supporting performance in Brewer’s “Dolemite is My Name.” Snipes’s performance in this film is either wildly genius or a big mistake. By film’s end I had to go with the latter.

Murphy and Arsenio Hall (returning as his best friend and sidekick Semi) once again head to America and discover that Akeem did, in fact, sire a boy during a one-night stand with a woman who got the naive prince to smoke too much cannabis. Akeem had no recollection of it happening.

SNL’s Leslie Jones plays the mother of Akeem’s “bastard son from Queens” and is one of the comic pleasures of the film. Jones does her shtick, and it is very funny.

As Akeem’s son Lavelle Jermaine Fowler has plenty of charisma. Unfortunately, he is saddled with benign dialogue that rarely gives him much to do except to react. The actor overcomes some of his dull lines by improvising and making many of his scenes work much better than the screenplay (which was written by Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Kenya Barris) allows.

This is an uneven film that wants to be its own entity but tries too hard to please the original’s fans by calling back to the first film in too obvious ways. Many jokes from Landis’s film are recycled and fall flat in Brewer’s sequel.

Garcelle Beauvais in “Coming 2 America”

Basically, for a film such as this one, it comes down to what works and what does not.

Brewer slams us with music almost constantly. There is a song playing in the background (or over) at every major moment in the film. It’s as if the director was under pressure to get a hit soundtrack out of the film—and it quickly becomes quite annoying.

The screenplay has good ideas but the need to recall jokes from the first film hurts many good moments that could have been great.

Brewer is a good filmmaker and knows how to put together a good movie, but his skills got away from him here. The film’s structure feels a bit sloppy. Many scenes are slapped together, moving on to the next one with no proper flow. Perhaps big-budget comedy is not Brewer’s forte.

But “Coming 2 America” isn’t without its charms.

It is nice to see the old gang back together. Murphy and Hall are as good as they were in the original, although they are not allowed enough moments together to prove it.

The four old men from the barbershop have also returned and have a couple of funny scenes. Forget about the fact that they would be pushing one hundred-plus years-old in the film’s time frame, their scenes work.

Although he is wasted and is given less than nothing to do, it is always a good thing to see John Amos. He is an actor that I have long admired.

Shari Headley, Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan as “Uncle Reem” all get their moments to shine. Especially Headley who was wide-eyed innocence in Landis’s original but has now grown into a strong queen and ruler but knows how to let loose and find her inner “Queens” once Jones comes around. The two actresses drinking and dancing and having a great time together is one of the most pleasurable moments in the film.

While the screenplay’s sappier moments reek of TV sitcom and the finale is abrupt and vastly undercooked, it is the cast that gives this film its soul.

“Coming 2 America” has good moments and unfortunately, by film’s end, the pieces that do not work outweigh the good. But the cast is so engaging, and some scenes made me laugh out loud, so I can mostly forgive the messiness of the screenplay and the overzealous direction from Craig Brewer.

Although I cannot dub this one a success and this is far from a glowing review, I cannot say I didn’t laugh and have a bit of fun.

Do yourself a favor. Stay for the end credits. There are some funny outtakes (a lost art) and afterwards, a special surprise for fans.

Eddie Murphy and Shari Headley in “Coming 2 America”

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