Shameful confession: watching this "I Love the 80s" edition of Coming to America marked the first time I'd ever seen the movie. Now I consider myself one who's seen more movies than 95% of the general public - but some films just slip me by. In this case I was definitely missing out. I'd always heard Coming to America was hilarious. I now agree. Wholeheartedly.
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall execute an entire 114 minutes of hilarity that makes you wish both of their careers hadn't derailed to their current positions.
Prince Akeem (Murphy), unwilling to accept the arranged marriage set up by King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aoleon (Madge Sinclair), takes his royal assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) to New York to find the smart and strong-willed queen of a wife he desires. With 40 days to complete his objective he goes to the spot in New York that catches his eye: Queens. Choosing to live like a normal American, Akeem and Semmi forsake their royal heritage and take a grimey apartment and a job at the local fast food restaurant McDowell's. Cleo McDowell (John Amos), the restaurant's owner, puts them to work mopping wherein Akeem meets Cleo's strong-willed and activist minded daughter Lisa (Shari Headley). Akeem begins the race against the 40 day clock to win Lisa's heart as she struggles with a sleazy fiancée-to-be Darryl (Eriq La Salle).
Coming to America uses every given opportunity to make a joke - and not the Kump-styled fart or fat joke - but a smarter "fish out of water" type that actually triggers laughter. The Arsenio Hall and Eddi Murphy combo might be the crown jewel of Coming to America's comedic brilliance. As Semmi grows tired of the pauper lifestyle, Murphy grows ever-infatuated with pursuing Lisa - causing his poor apartment to become not just a necessity but a selling point. How can one verify love when there's a kingdom in the balance?
John Landis coaxed superb performances from an incredible cast.
What made Beverly Hills Cop the beacon of comedy in Murphy's foggy career was the quick turnaround between fast-talking Axel Foley's comedy and the genuinely serious moments. When these two elements mixed properly the movie had you jumping between belly-ripping laughter and rapt attention. Coming to America preserves the last vestiges of this Eddie Murphy comedic styling. However, the formula is slightly changed. In place of fast-talking we have stilted English with an odd pacing that's interrupted not by the beguiling grin of Foley but by the naivete of the African Prince's interactions with a much more informed public. The two parts are altered but the result remains the same: golden Murphy comedy.
Arsenio Hall, oddly enough, feels inserted to serve as comedic relief in a comedy. Usually you put comic relief into a tight thriller or serious drama but I guess it was felt that Murphy's Akeem was slightly too business-minded to fully flesh out a comedic storyline on his own. So they gave us Semmi - and we shouldn't complain. Hall's performance as the discipline-breaking Semmi provides some of the film's most laugh out loud moments.
James Earl Jones as King Jaffre Joffer is spot-on. With such a commanding stature and voice, all jokes about killing rose petal throwers go from mere comedy to hilarity. Noticeably absent for the middle half of the film, Jones gets his marks in early and reminds the world why he's such an iconic actor. It's not just the voice - it's the presence.
Coming to America marks one of Murphy's most diverse listings of performances in one film. Both he and Arsenio stretch themselves across at least 3 characters each without any issues or faltering. Eddie Murphy may have taken this style too far with The Nutty Professor but all of you comedy lovers can take refuge in Coming to America where he nails each and every line.
Man, this movie is so quotable. Final confession: when Samuel L. Jackson burst into the movie there was a minor amused fist pump on my part. I still think it's justified though.
DVD Bonus Features
Beyond an included CD with 4 classic 80s tunes, the new "I Love the 80s" edition of Coming to America doesn't offer much in terms of extras. With your general DVD options of the trailer, audio tracks and subtitles this version of Coming to America is quite scant in terms of extras.
"Coming to America" is on sale February 3, 2009 and is rated R. Comedy. Directed by John Landis. Written by Eddie Murphy (story), David Sheffield (screenplay). Starring Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair.