Eddie Murphy was my favourite contemporary movie star when I was a young teen. 48 Hours (1982), Trading Places (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984) were movies I practically worshipped, and, like millions of others, I worshipped them for Murphy’s performances. They were displays of protean virtuosity, full of energy, wit, intelligence and profane belligerence.
Coming To America (1988) was a different story. As a naive African prince who goes to the United States to find a bride, Murphy was restrained, and restraint was not the quality one looked for in Murphy. His trademark hyperbolic energy was seriously muzzled, at least as Prince Akeem; luckily, he and co-star Arsenio Hall also played denizens of a Queen’s barbershop, under layers of makeup (Eddie played both the black owner and an old white Jewish customer), and those scenes, liberally scattered throughout the movie, helped salvage it.
Those characters re-appear in this very belated sequel, available on Amazon Prime, but only briefly, and the film suffers mightily from the same affliction as the first: not enough Eddie, and not the Eddie we want. Murphy is just too generous in both these movies: he gives so much screen time away to his co-stars, he himself barely registers, yet he’s the sole reason we’re there. Coming 2 America, Murphy’s second collaboration with director Craig Brewer after 2019’s terrific Dolemite Is My Name, is a mis-fire. Given how often it re-packages material from the first movie, it is also, sadly, redundant. * * 1/2
For a far better film with a nearly all-Black cast, check out Judas and the Black Messiah (in cinemas now). It’s the fascinating story of Bill O’Neal, who informed on Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton to the FBI. O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) remains an elusive figure, perhaps inevitably, but the film is beautifully crafted and a superb history lesson. The production design and cinematography are particularly rewarding, all the performances are solid (Daniel Kaluuya is picking up awards for his fiery portrayal of Hampton), and the score is phenomenal. It’s the second feature from director Shaka King; there will be many more. * * * *