This summer, Prince Akeem discovers America.
Coming to America is a 1988 romantic comedy film directed by John Landis, written by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, produced by Eddie Murphy Productions, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. It was nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup, winning neither. This is the first film in the Coming to America series. It will be followed by Coming 2 America.
"Good morning, my neighbors!" -Prince Akeem
It is Prince Akeem's 21st birthday, which, by tradition of Zamunda, means that he is going to get married. When he meets his bride-to-be, she is obedient to him and has no free will. Akeem convinces his father to let him go to America. There, Akeem and his servant, Semmi, search for a girl that Akeem can love and marry.
And the best thing about this film is the comedy. It absolutely nails the fish-out-of-water comedy. Even in Zamunda, the film is getting a laugh every two minutes. Some scenes just crank out jokes every other line. The highlight here is the barbershop sequences. The crazy blabbing that the characters in the barbershop do is absolutely fabulous, and it's even more incredible that that is Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. It's a really funny movie that get a laugh from most of its jokes.
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall do a great job of creating these different personalities. Out of their characters, Akeem and Semmi are the least funny. The pastor is hilarious. Randy Watson is great. And Eddie Murphy's performance as the Jewish guy in the barbershop is just spectacular. It's amazing that they are able to do this. That's really what Coming to America is known for, and it is a freshness that Coming 2 America will be missing.
The comedy is done really well. It is always timed perfectly while also being funny. When those two are combined, it can make for a really fun watch. In movies such as Dumb and Dumber and Anchorman, the comedy is just stupid. It isn't really timed and everything that the characters say is meant to be silly and funny. In movies such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Major League, the comedy isn't as funny, but more well-timed. Coming to America is able to combine those to make its comedy.
The film actually has a great story. The idea of a prince coming from a faraway land isn't anything new, but the differences between Zamunda and Queens are hysterical. The romance is believable and compelling, which makes the movie feel like it does earn the title of rom-com.
I know I mentioned this before, but I'm going to dive deeper into it. I think Coming to America has the best usage of the fish-out-of-water template. If you don't know what that is, it's when a character has a set of rules and ideas based on their way of life, and something happens that sticks them in a new territory. Thor is a fish-out-of-water movie. Back to the Future is a fish-out-of-water movie. Big is a fish-out-of-water movie. But Coming to America executes the comedy for this template very, very well.
The unfortunate thing about Coming to America is that most of the performances are really, really bad. Most notably Shari Headley. Every line is delivered in this over-the-top happy voice that is just cringe-worthy. It is really uncomfortable to watch her. The chemistry between her and Eddie Murphy suffers because of this. Murphy is about twenty times better than her and more convincing than her, which means that there isn't truly a believable romance. The romantic plot is good, but the actual execution fails because of Headley's portrayal of Lisa.
John Amos isn't that good either. He does the same thing as Headley, albeit not as over-the-top and uncomfortable, but it is really annoying. His character isn't as essential, so it isn't as bad, but his performance can be frustrating and uncomfortable. On the flip side, Eriq La Salle delivers every line in monotone. Displaying an unbelievable amount of blank faces, he has one of the most tired performances that seemed like he really didn't care about the film at all.
The comedy is also replaced by the romantic plot line near the end. The ending as a whole is a bit of a problem for me, but I'll get into that in a sec. In the last twenty-ish minutes, the laughs are benched for romance. They really rush into Lisa and Akeem's relationship, leaving no space for really any good laughs in those final minutes of the film.
The ending also contains the single most predictable scene in film history. Akeem's wedding is a really obvious reveal that doesn't feel necessary. Everyone on the planet who has seen this movie knew that Lisa was in the wedding dress. This scene had to happen because they tried to trick us and miserably failed. Lisa seemingly breaks up with Akeem and refuses to get back together with him, which they keep up for that final sequence. It's a bad attempt at creating drama, and I don't think it works.
Despite a few problems near the end and some really terrible acting, Coming to America is absolutely one of the funniest movies I've seen, mainly deriving from Eddie Murphy's talented portrayal of multiple characters.
I will give it a Savory rating. Age range is 11+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
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"Coming to America"
Fun Factor: 9/10
Directed by John Landis
Rated R for language, sexual content, and thematic elements
Released on June 29, 1988
1 hour and 57 minutes
Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem, Clarence, Saul, Randy Watson
Arsenio Hall as Semmi, Morris, Extremely Ugly Girl, Reverend Brown
Shari Headley as Lisa McDowell
James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer
John Amos as Cleo McDowell
Eriq La Salle as Darryl Jenks
Allison Dean as Patrice McDowell
Madge Sinclair as Queen Aoleon
Paul Bates as Oha Samuel L. Jackson as Hold-Up Man