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DVD Review: Coming To America – I Love the 80’s Edition

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You know him. He was Joe the Policeman from the “What’s Going Down” episode of That’s My Mama. It’s Jackson Heights’ own Mr. Randy Watson, the dynamic lead singer of the R&B legends Sexual Chocolate. Next to Spinal Tap, no fictional band has ever transcended the screen like Sexual Chocolate. And for performing only one song!

If the stunningly bad rendition of “The Greatest Love of All” was the only worthwhile scene in Coming To America, the movie would still rank as one of the comedy highlights of the ’80s. As it is, there are a number of classic scenes in this quintessential slice of late ’80s cinema.

Released in 1988, America was the passing of a torch…temporarily. Murphy’s star was falling, and he descended into a punchline for most of the ’90s, before his career resurrection. Hall, on the other hand, was about to hit it big time. His TV show debuted in 1989 and he became the face of the early 1990s. Since then his star has faded, giving the Murphy/Hall dynamic the Seinfeldian “even Steven” effect.

Murphy and Hall star as Prince Akeem and his servant Semmi, respectively. Akeem is set to marry a woman chosen by his father, the king of a fictional African country. But Akeem wants to choose his bride, so he convinces his father to let him and Seemi go to America to “sow his royal oats.” Akeem and Semmi arrive in New York City to the thunderous beat of overproduced ’80s electronic snare drums, synthesizers, and saxophones. Eyeing the beautiful Lisa McDowell at a church function, Akeem takes a job at her father’s restaurant, the Mickey D’s knock-off McDowells, and set out to win her heart. For all the comedic stylings and simply hilarious moments, at the core, America is a love story. Watching Akeem chasing Lisa with the drive to win her over seems like it’s made for clichés, yet the movie manages to steer very clear of any chick flick-ness.

America features one of Murphy’s best performances. Not only does he portray Akeem, but has a number of ‘undercover’ roles as an old Jewish man, the aforementioned Randy Watson, and a barber. The movie is also full of stars in starter roles and cameos. A young Cuba Gooding Jr. is one of the barbershop customers, though he simply smiles at the mirror, not a line in sight. Samuel L. Jackson is an armed robber who gets taken out by a mop-wielding Murphy. A pre-ER Eriq LaSalle stars as the Soul Glo-wearing boyfriend of Akeem’s dream girl, Lisa. Even Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy have cameos reprising their Trading Places roles as Randolph and Mortimer Duke

This DVD is part of Paramount’s I Love the 80’s series. Inside the DVD you’ll find a CD with four ’80s tunes from Erasure, INXS, a-ha, and Echo & the Bunnymen. There isn’t much in the way of extras however, save for the original theatrical trailer.  The print, however, is crisp and shown in widescreen format.

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