Coming To America is a romantic comedy starring Eddie Murphy. He plays Akeem, an African prince from the fictional country of Zamunda. On his twenty-first birthday, as is tradition, he is presented with a beautiful woman who has been raised to be his bride and serve him. Akeem rejects this because he wants to meet a woman, who is her own person, and fall in love with her. With his companion Semmi (Arsenio Hall) in tow, they head to America, selecting what they believe is the appropriately titled Queens, NY.
Akeem doesn’t want anyone to know he is royalty, so he and Semmi live in a run-down, rat-infested apartment and take jobs at a hamburger joint known as McDowall’s, named after its owner Cleo McDowall (John Amos), who thinks he can avoid a lawsuit with a more famous, similarly named fast-food restaurant since his “buns have no seeds.” Cleo has a daughter named Lisa (Shari Headley) who has the traits Akeem is looking for in a woman and he wants to get to know her better. However, Lisa is being pursued by Darryl Jenks (Eriq La Salle), whose father runs the company that makes Soul Glo, and Cleo approves of him. Yet, once Akeem and Lisa spend time together, it’s obvious to any regular movie-watcher what the result will be.
Coming To America is a mixed bag. There are some funny comedic moments, and the production design is impressive, but those elements are counterbalanced by the romance, which is too familiar and clichéd. This is the movie in which Murphy started to play multiple characters, and it is the barbershop scenes, where he plays both an older barber and an even older Jewish man that are the movie’s funniest. Unfortunately, there are not enough of them to make it worth sitting through.
The movie re-teams Murphy with director John Landis, who previously worked together on Trading Places, which viewers will be reminded of as Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprise their roles as the Duke Brothers. Landis sneaks in other Easter eggs as well like the title “See You Next Wednesday” on a movie poster in a subway. The movie gained notoriety away from theaters when Art Buchwald sued Paramount over breach of contract, which helped expose Hollywood accounting in regards to net profits.
This new DVD release is part of a larger synergistic effort by the marketing weasels at Viacom to cash in on the success of VH-1’s hit television series I Love the 80’s. The movies are presented without extras and each comes with the same CD that offers only four popular songs from the decade. Not only would I pass on Coming to America because I didn’t like the movie, but the entire poorly conceived line as well.