Reviews, Vault Reviews — October 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm

VAULT REVIEW: COMING TO AMERICA

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Dylan recommended I review the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy as a lead up to the release of Tower Heist. I’ve been wanting to tackle an entire series for a while, but wasn’t sure if you all would care to read a multi-week critique. Because there wasn’t time to conduct a proper poll, I’ve tweaked the idea. For the next few weeks, I’ll be showcasing movies featuring the stars of Tower Heist beginning, obviously, with Eddie Murphy.

Rose bearers tossing petals at your feet, attendants brushing your teeth and gargling for you, and bathers cleaning your royal penis. Pampering like this sounds like a sweet deal, but Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is bothered that he is twenty-one and has never tied his own shoes. And now, though he’s never met her, he must marry a bride (Vanessa Bell) his parents, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) and Queen Aoleon (Madge Sinclair), have chosen.

Akeem convinces his father that he must leave Zamunda for America to sow his royal oats. The Prince and his servant, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), arrive in Queens where they live and work as paupers so Akeem can meet an independent woman who will love him, and not his title. He finds a prospect in Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley) and a rival in her boyfriend, Darryl (Eriq La Salle), the Prince of Soul Glo.

While Murphy’s penchant for playing multiple roles is a tired gimmick now, Coming to America is the film where he first tested the concept with hilarious results. The makeup effects are quite good, and garnered Rick Baker his fourth Oscar nomination. Murphy’s old Jewish man, Saul, is even more convincing than his role as the African prince.

Murphy and Hall each portray four characters, but the film is still chock full of familiar faces like Frankie Faison, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Louie Anderson and John Amos. Amos is a riot as Cleo McDowell, whose McDowell’s restaurant has no similarity to McDonald’s whatsoever. Cuba Gooding Jr. pops in for his first big screen role as a silent barbershop customer. My absolute favorite appearance is that of Samuel L. Jackson, whose character is as loud and violent as his characters are now. Murphy and director John Landis even throw in an homage to their previous collaboration, Trading Places, by having Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprise their roles.

The Duke Brothers’ cameos and the multiple Murphy roles are so indulgent. These and other moments are entirely unwarranted; they drag out the run time, have little to no bearing on the plot or its resolution…but they’re still pretty damned funny, which is a must in a comedy.

One thing noticeably absent from Coming to America is Eddie Murphy’s trademark laugh. His seriousness, and I use the term loosely, as Akeem adds to the sincerity of his quest. The budding romance between Akeem and Lisa doesn’t feel forced thanks to exemplary writing and direction. Their courtship is no more unbelievable than any other comedy courtship from the 80s.

Coming to America is still nearly as funny as my teenaged self remembers thanks to a well-scripted story and the comedic genius of Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Though many of us may not care for Murphy’s more recent, kid-friendly films, there’s no denying that the days when he played a prince were when he reigned as a king of comedy.

????1/2

16 Comments

  • Brothers from another mother, indeed! I JUST finished a rewatch of this last night. I love it so much. I’m not exactly sure of what my all-time favorite comedies are, but this is in the top 10 and perhaps even the top 5. The jokes aren’t terribly funny to me anymore, but I found myself smiling and giving modest chuckles throughout. What’s better is that it’s aged pretty well, and I feel like it would still be funny as hell to someone watching it anew (ahem, Nick).

    Disagree on the indulgence of the multiple roles. I’ll grant you that the Duke Bros cameo kinda was, but it barely took up any time and is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Still, it’s true that it certainly didn’t need to be. But the multiple roles (by both Hall and Murphy) are damn near what makes this film as great as it is. They are all A+ hits and provide so many of the memorable lines (or songs) that this flick is known for.

    • Dylan, I’ll go one step further and say that Murphy doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to play multiple roles in a single movie. He might have worn the gag out with the ‘Nutty Professor’ movies and the one where he plays a man and a fat woman (name escapes me), but how many other comedic actors do this with his level of skill? (Mike Myers comes closest, I’d say.) ‘America’ in particular, which I wrote about this past summer, is a great example of his versatility which gets taken for granted, I think, because of all the vanilla, kid-friendly movies he’s done lately.

      • I completely agree. The topper here is that, with the makeup and voices, some of them are so good that you can scarcely tell that it’s Murphy (or Hall, for that matter). Obviously, the old Jewish guy stands out – I’m still flabbergasted that that’s Murphy. He’s 100% unrecognizable. But even Randy Watson is so perfectly hidden that I could see people not noticing/being fooled had they not known about the multiple roles thing. The barber comes the closest to sounding like Eddie.

        As for Hall, his old barber is similarly unrecognizable, which is impressive given that it’s difficult to hide Hall’s bug-out eyes and overly visible upper gums usually.

        I can’t believe the flick didn’t win the Oscar for makeup. I saw it was nominated, and I haven’t looked to see what actually won, but I dare say Coming to America was robbed.

      • Dylan, I was surprised it wasn’t as hilarious as I remembered, but considering I could quote over half of it and that I got the warm fuzzies from scene to scene, it’s definitely a classic in my book.

        FYI, Coming to America was up against Scrooged and Beetlejuice for Best Makeup with Beetlejuice taking home the Oscar. A deserving win considering all the makeup in that movie.

        Looking back I did say “so indulgent,” but I meant to go with just “indulgent” or “somewhat indulgent.” Strictly speaking, the Reverend, Randy’s solo and the barbershop banter doesn’t contribute to the plot so it’d technically be a fault of the movie. I do point out that these characters are still awesome, so do I get credit for that? If not, let me say Saul, Randy, the Reverend, the Ugly Girl and Clarence are a trip!

        Rich, I’d agree that Mike Myers is nearly as good as Murphy, his Stuart Mackenzie is still my fave. Like Murphy, he’s worn it out too. They both need a quality adult project where they can put their talents to good use. Maybe Murphy could be the villain in the next Austin Powers and they can try to out multi-role each other. :-p

  • Great review, though I agree with Dylan in regards to the multiple roles not being indulgent. Unlike The Klumps, the multiple characters were more than just sound bites on constant loop. They added a rich comedic layer to the film that is vital, yes even in a small way, to the main characters overall American experience.

    Why this film has not been voted as The LAMB movie of the month is beyond me. Murphy is at his best in this film, and the rewatch value is ridiculously high.

    • Help get the word out! I voted for it, but if it gets 5% or less of the votes, it’ll be removed from consideration. It obviously ain’t gonna win this month, but I’d like to see it win a future month.

    • These characters do make a nice contribution to Akeem & Semmi’s American experience. Excellent point. As I replied above, I by no means dislike the characters, I was essentially being nit-picky.

      I’ve been debating whether I want to rewatch the Nutty professor, I loved it back then, but wonder if it’d hold up.

      We totally need to get Coming to America to LAMB MOTM status.

  • I didn’t know Cuba walked through this movie. That’s pretty cool.

    One of my favorite parts was when Murphy and Hall sparred with the staffs and Hall called him a bag of rhinoceros piss or something. I forget exactly, but it was awesome.

  • I have read so many comments about this movie. I will like to say that the movie coming to America is an interesting one. As we all know, marriage is a long life affair. It is not something we can compromise or manage. So, before one can settle for any relationship, it should be someone you are ready to live all your entire life with. This is exactly what Eddy Murphy (Prince Akeem) exhibits in the movie. It is so fascinating, exciting and educative. I love it so much.

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