Throwback Thirty – Coming to America (1988)

I hate writing on my phone. I know it’s a huge first world problem but it’s just super annoying. I don’t understand how people can write long pieces on a phone or tablet. Maybe it’s just my stubby fingers that make it tricky but the whole process is frustrating. Writing my captions for Instagram is hard enouCominggh and that’s only a few lines. Still, it’s my own fault. I’m currently on a train to London for my friend’s birthday and I never got ahead with my posts. In fact I hadn’t watched today’s film until last night. The fact that I was packing at the time may have about impact on my review but I’m sure I got the gist of it. I mean it’s an Eddie Murphy comedy from the 80s. It was hardly going to be hard to keep up.

Coming to America is based on an original story by its star, Eddie Murphy, and brought to life by director John Landis. Murphy plays the 21 year old prince of the African nation of Zahmunda. When he is introduced to the bride his parents have picked for him to marry, Akeem Joffer decides he wants to be able to pick his own bride. So he and his closest friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), travel to America to find a woman who loves him for something besides his title. They land in Queens where they take the guise of two poor foreign students. Taking a job at a fast food restaurant, Akeem quickly falls for his boss’s daughter, Lisa (Shari Headley). Can he successfully woo her before his father (James Earl Jones) arrives to take him back home?

I kind of like Eddie Murphy. Okay, not recently because he’s sort of lost his way but 80s Murphy is undeniably talented. You just need to look at his previous film with Landis, Changing Places. It’s a fun film and is fantastically referenced here without being too in-your-face. Murpy is a funny guy: we know this. The only problem is, looking at this film you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

I know he didn’t actually write the final script but even the basic narrative idea is uninspiring. It’s hardly an original or hilarious idea. We’ve seen similar plots explored in much better ways elsewhere and it makes this one seem particularly tame. The major problem is that there isn’t room for Murphy to be his usual over-the-top self. He’s too reserved and held back. Not unfunny but not really funny enough.

A problem with the film as a whole. It’s not dreadful but, especially when you consider what this pair have done before, it feels a bit lacking. The humour basically comes from the fact that Akeem is a nice guy whilst everyone else isn’t. The film is grasping for jokes in ever scene but only occasionally catches anything good. It’s in no way an offensively unfunny film but it just feels so familiar. So obvious. And let’s not forget, Landis gets so desperate to find some humour that he is forced to continually cut to an adorable dog for reaction shots. It’s not right.

So Coming to America fails on the com and, unfortunately for what is essentially a romantic-comedy, fails to provide much rom either. The robancs between Akeem and Lisa is so rushed that you never really have time to care. There is little if any chemistry between Murphy and Heading, which means you can’t help but wonder why he didn’t just stay with his arranged marriage.

It’s not as if this film didn’t have potential. It had a decent cast and a premise that, with the right script, could have done what it needed to. Instead, the writers have given us a bland and forgettable film that is neither too sweet or too outrageous to be worth a rewatch. It was nominated for two Oscars: one for makeup and the other for costume. They’re about the only things that this film really gets right. I mean the shot of James Earl Jones wearing a lion pelt is perfect in so many ways. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.

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