By Marc S. Sanders
Now Coming To America is a special kind of film. It’s rare movie where you’ll find a G rated story wrapped in R rated material and ultimately that is what Eddie Murphy and director John Landis brilliantly achieved.
Murphy plays Prince Akeem living a privileged life in the country of Zamunda where he has his own personal butt wipers and concubines who ensure him the royal penis is clean. He is now of the age where he is ready to meet his bride who has been groomed since birth to accommodate every need and preference the Prince has. However, Akeem is mature enough to realize that he wants to be married to someone who likes him for who he is, and not his wealth and stature. So with his best friend Simi (Arsenio Hall) in tow, they travel to Queens, New York under the guise of poor, humble people to find Akeem’s true love.
The story is Disney like and very simple. The gags are what has allowed Coming To America to hold on to its beloved longevity over thirty years later. It is one of Murphy’s last great films before he resorted to a lot of silly kiddie tripe like Daddy Day Care. This is a film that does a 180 flip on the Beverly Hills Cop storyline. In Cop, Murphy was the loudmouth offensive stranger in strange land. In this film, he remains a stranger, only this time the setting is full of loudmouths; this is Queens after all. Akeem is a lovable guy with good intentions and sensitivity. When he meets Lisa (Shari Headley) the daughter of a McDonald’s rip off franchisee (a hilarious John Amos), he becomes enamored and approaches with care despite her dating a jerk (Eriq La Salle) who inherited his family’s “Soul Glo” hair product enterprise.
The best attraction of the film however are Murphy and Hall’s various other characters they portray like Murphy as Randy Watson, lead singer of the band Sexual Chocolate (you know him as Joe the Policeman from the What’s Going Down? episode of That’s My Momma) and Hall as Reverend Brown who believes “There is a god someWHERE!!!” Not to mention the barbers who hang out beneath their apartment. Murphy and Hall are such a skilled pair of chemistry together. Why didn’t they do more films together? Harlem Knights? Ahem…let’s just not talk about that.
Landis was a good comedy director, a staple of the 1980’s films who would let the talents play for the camera and not try to reinvent the wheel. His approach here is the same as when he directed Murphy with Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places, or when he helmed Michael Jackson’s legendary Thriller music video. He knew these guys knew what they were doing. So, he just positioned the camera and let them go. Coming To America does run a little too long in some moments. I’m impressed by Paula Abdul’s choreography of tribal dancers, but I didn’t need to see all three minutes of it. A few of those moments run long, when all I want to do is get to the next gag or story development.
Still, if you are not a prude, I recommend Coming To America for a family viewing with your pre teen kids. I showed it to my daughter who is at the age when the sheer utterance of a curse word is hysterical; that’s a rite of passage in childhood as far as I’m concerned. The film contains no overt sexually active scenes, but there is some female nudity, and so what? My daughter knows what she is looking at. Bottom line Coming To America is a sweet Cinderella story that kids will love and adults will laugh at, over and over again until they know every line by heart.