An African prince heads to New York to find himself a wife.
John Landis, 1988 Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), of the fictional African country Zamunda, is disillusioned with his life. Everyone agrees with his every word, no matter how inane or ridiculous it is, and all he wants is someone who likes him for him, dammit. After a disastrous first meeting with the woman with whom his marriage has been arranged, he convinces his father King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) to let him go to America to try to find a woman. Along with his faithful companion Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem moves to Queens, and tries to blend in in the big city. There he sees Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), the beautiful daughter of a local restaurant owner. He and Semmi get low-paying jobs at McDowell’s (get it?) while he tries to woo Lisa away from her boyfriend Darryl (Eriq La Salle) and win over her father. I have to say, I think this is the first time I’ve seen Eddie Murphy do something more akin to acting than doing stand up comedy under different names. As Akeem he’s restrained, intellectual and soft-spoken, and it’s a good performance. Of course, the film also gives he and fellow comedian Arsenio Hall plenty of opportunity to cut loose. In addition to Akeem and Semmi they each play three other roles, including a woman (Hall) and an old Jewish guy (Murphy). The old folks are on point, but the others are over the top in an unfun way. The film has more charm when it’s more focused on character moments – when Samuel L. Jackson robs the restaurant, offering Akeem an opportunity to be heroic; when Akeem and Lisa are getting to know each other; when Semmi and Akeem disagree about spending money. In these scenes the film transcends its icky plot to be fun and entertaining. Unsurprisingly, given the plot of the film, Coming to America is a sexist, racist movie. It’s particularly bad in the intersection of the two things; with the exception of Akeem’s mother, African women are portrayed as stupid and fawning. There’s a lot of emphasis on the kind of woman that’s acceptable to marry, and an emphasis on laughing at the African women for doing the most sensible thing for their continued survival. The movie also isn’t that funny. I didn’t laugh much, and the social commentary is less on-point than Murphy and Landis’s collaboration on Trading Places. (Speaking of which, the cameo from that film’s antagonists is pretty great.) Lisa’s savvy sister Patrice (Allison Dean) is a lot of fun, even though she gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop as the more sexually adventurous sister (of course). It’s a shame that the Landis/Murphy combo continues to be dismissive of women in these classic movies. Apparently, there is a line, though it’s flexible: Eriq La Salle (about whom I realised, halfway through, “that’s the smarmy guy from ER!”) says women just “want a man to take charge”, which disgusts Akeem, but he’s rewarded with the slutty sister regardless. The film has a fairly backwards view of Africa, too, although there’s a dance scene that’s spectacular and it’s less not all “jungle savages”, which is how Hollywood typically portrays Africans. Overall, it’s a little bit of a disappointment after the much better Trading Places. Coming to America on IMDb