Coming to America (1988)

coming to america IMDb

We’ve already reviewed one classic Eddie Murphy comedy from the 80s, so we know he can be hilarious. Coming to America is Eddie Murphy at his best. He is hilarious as the clueless African prince who goes to Queens, New York to find a bride (where else but Queens would someone find a princess to marry?).

Akeem goes to New York with his friend Semmi to find a bride. He wants to marry for love, and not have to go through with arranged marriage his parents have organised with a woman he has never met. He decides to hide the fact he is royalty in Africa, in order to be sure any woman he courts will not only be interested in his title and wealth. To make this believable, Akeem and Semmi get jobs at a McDonalds knock off restaurant, McDowells.

While Murphy is great as Prince Akeem, it is the supporting cast that elevates this film above Murphy’s other 80s classics. Arsenio Hall is great as Akeem’s friend and minder while he travels to New York. This was one of his few movie roles, and he is brilliant as Semmi. He doesn’t understand why Akeem wants to hide the fact he is a prince, and his moaning about being forced in to minimum wage labour is very funny. Hall and Murphy also play several other characters in the film thanks to the fabulous make up work of Rick Baker. Hall and Murphy play three or four characters each in this film, some of them completely unrecognisable. They play a group of patrons at a barbershop where Akeem gets a haircut. Murphy is hardly noticeable as a white Jewish man who banters with Akeem’s barber. I only realised it was Murphy after I read about it later, he hides himself so well. John Amos is also great as the manager of McDowells, and Samuel L. Jackson also appears in what must’ve been one of his earliest roles as a criminals who is foiled by Akeem when he tries to rob McDowells.

James Earl Jones is also great as Akeem’s father, King Jaffe Joffer. He allows his son to travel to the USA after Akeem convinces him he wants to sow his wild oats. One point of interest I realised while watching this movie: James Earl Jones and his Queen (Madge Sinclair) also provide voices for the king and queen in The Lion King. I never realised that before, but it’s funny to see Disney have a sense of humour sometimes.

This is a very funny movie, but it has a lot of heart too. Akeem’s intentions are good and you want him to succeed. Especially when the girl he falls in loves with, Lisa (Shari Headley), is dating such a douche (Eriq La Salle). You really want her to realise it and become a princess. This is Eddie Murphy’s best movie in my opinion, it is one of my favourite comedies and still holds up today, even though it is over 25 years old.

Rating: A-

This is probably my favorite Eddie Murphy movie. It was one of the first “grown up” comedies I remember my parents letting me watch, and it seemed so edgy and bad. All the swearing and nudity… I felt like I was finally getting a glimpse of a world that was forbidden to kids. It was a big deal to me. I felt like my parents were finally seeing that I was growing up, and letting me in on some secret fun.

Every time I watch Coming to America I laugh hysterically. It’s a rare comedy that stands the test of time. Not only are the performances great, but the storyline is still remarkably fresh. The way it pokes fun at the immigrant experience in America is lighthearted and fun. After all, we know that Akeem and Semmi aren’t your typical newcomers. But the way they are treated by some of the people they meet who don’t know their royal heritage (Darryl Jenks particularly) is still common to the immigrant experience. Darryl treats the two with derision, and is constantly making dismissive jabs at them. To him they are uncivilized, uneducated tribesmen who don’t deserve his respect. It’s ironic then that the only uncivilized one here is Darryl himself. Akeem is so sweet and ernest, that of course you root for him to succeed over a douche like Darryl. Akeem could easily have any woman he wants back in his homeland, but he comes to America to find an intelligent woman who can think for herself. (Of course you know I’m going to love this plot.)

Really, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall make this movie. In the hands of any other actors these roles could have been bland. These two have real chemistry and talent, and elevate the story above the silly gags. The best scenes are when Murphy and Hall are playing multiple roles, something that became a staple of later Murphy films. They so completely become these other characters that they’re often hardly recognizable. It’s no wonder the movie also received an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Coming to America. It’s not as rude or action packed as Beverley Hills Cop, but it’s still one of Murphy’s best.

Rating: A

One thought on “Coming to America (1988)

  1. Pingback: The Goonies (1985) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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