Directed by John Landis and screenplay by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein that is based on an original story by Eddie Murphy. Coming to America is the story of an African prince who travels to America with his friend/servant to find a woman he can marry and fall in love with. The film marks a reunion between Landis and Murphy since the hit 1983 film Trading Places which Murphy starred in as in this film, he plays multiple characters. Also starring Arsenio Hall, John Amos, Shari Headley, Madge Sinclair, Eriq La Salle, and James Earl Jones. Coming to America is a heartwarming yet riotous comedy from John Landis.
Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of the African country Zamunda has just turned 21 as he lives a pampered yet lavish lifestyle but feels unhappy as he wants to take care of himself while wanting to find a bride who will love him for who he is and not what he is. Meanwhile, his father King Jaffee Joffer (James Earl Jones) and mother Queen Aeoleon (Madge Sinclair) are searching for a bride suitable for their son. At a ceremony to celebrate Akeem’s birthday, Akeem would meet his bride-to-be Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell) as he tries to get to know her but instead is obedient to his command. After talking to his father about wanting to go on a trip, the king decides to give Akeem 40 days of freedom to sow his wild oats. Akeem takes his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) with him as he decides to travel to America to find his bride as they decide to land in the section of Queens in New York City.
Arriving at Queens, they move into a very poor, rat-infested apartment and getting rid of their rich attire much to Semmi’s dismay. He and Akeem go on a search for a bride for Akeem until they meet the local barber Clarence (Eddie Murphy) who takes them to local charity that features a young woman named Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley) whom Akeem falls for as she speaks at the function. With her father Cleo (John Amos) running a local fast food restaurant called McDowell’s, Akeem and Semmi work at the place as Akeem tries to win Lisa over against her boyfriend Daryl (Eriq La Salle) who is the son of a Jeri curl hairspray manufacturer. After various attempts including going on a double-date with Lisa, Daryl, and Lisa’s sister Patrice (Allison Dean), Akeem manages to win over Cleo after fighting off a robber (Samuel L. Jackson) as he invites him and Semmi to work at a party in his home.
The party turns into an engagement party though Lisa doesn’t feel ready to marry Daryl as she and Akeem start to become close. With Akeem finally finding the woman he wants, Semmi becomes frustrated with their living situation as he sends a telegram to the king asking for money. Instead, the king comes to New York City to find Akeem as Akeem learns that his family has arrived. When Lisa learns who Akeem really is, she meets the royal couple which only adds to her own confusion about who he is. Learning what his father said to her, Akeem goes on a search to find Lisa to proclaim his love for her.
The film is about a prince who travels to America to find a suitable bride as he wants to find someone who will love him for who he is. It’s a simple premise that is told with a lot of humor with an element of romance while it features a lead character who just wants to be accepted a man despite his royal background. The screenplay by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein manages to create a narrative that is quite formulaic but inject a lot of humor about the way a prince tries to make himself be a common man with a bit of naiveté about how common people lived yet he takes in stride much to the chagrin of his friend Semmi who is used to being pampered and living a rich lifestyle. Yet, Akeem is aware that is more and he is more interested in having a woman with an opinion.
While the script does have some very interesting characters and ideas about class differences. There’s a looseness to the script in the way the comedy is handled which allows director John Landis to create a film that extremely funny but also has a very touching romantic story. There’s also a sense of ambition in the way Landis presents this grand palace of the royal family while being able to shoot on location in the sections of Queens and Manhattan in New York City. The compositions have more depth for large crowd scenes as well as an intimacy for smaller yet straightforward moments. Still, Landis let things play out naturally while creating moments that are dramatic without being too heavy. Overall, Landis makes a truly solid yet roaring comedy that is filled with memorable one-liners and moments that keeps viewers watching endlessly.
Cinematographers Sol Negrin and Woody Omens do an incredible job with the photography from the grimy yet lush look of the cold winter of Queens in its poor section to the more vibrant look for the posh set pieces in the film. Editors Malcolm Campbell and George Folsey Jr. do nice work in the editing in creating some rhythmic cuts to some of the film’s funny moments while maintaining a very straightforward presentation for the film. Production designer Richard MacDonald, along with art directors Richard B. Lewis and Christopher Nowak, does a fantastic job with the look of the Zamundan royal palace with all sorts of amazing rooms and exteriors along with quaint but lovely home of Cleo McDowell.
Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman does a superb job with the costumes from the regal look of Akeem and his family wore to the more casual American clothing he wears when he arrives in the U.S. Special effects makeup work by Rick Baker does an excellent job with the look of the various characters that both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall play which has the former play a Jewish white man. Sound editors Paul Timothy Carden and Richard C. Franklin do a wonderful job with the sound work to convey the chaotic atmosphere of Queens as well as maintaining an intimacy in smaller moments of the film.
The film’s score by Niles Rodgers is terrific for its dance-based score filled with synthesizers and 80s R&B to emphasize the American world that Akeem lives in while the score also has an orchestral element with bombastic arrangements to emphasize the world of Africa. The soundtrack features a mix of 80s pop, R&B, and hip-hop to display the world of America while there’s also brief snippets of music by Elmer Bernstein from his work in another Landis film in Trading Places.
The casting by Jackie Burch is brilliant from the ensemble that is created as it features cameos from Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprising their Duke Brothers character from Trading Places. Other small roles include Jake Steinfeld as a cab driver, Vondie Curtis-Hall as a basketball game vendor who recognizes Akeem, Cuba Gooding Jr. as a barbershop customer, Garcelle Beauvais as one of the rose-bearers, Frankie Faison as a landlord, Paul Bates as the top royal family servant Oha, Clint Smith as the barber Sweets, Louie Anderson as a McDowell’s employee, Vanessa Bell as the beautiful future bride Imani, Allison Dean as Lisa’s partying sister Patrice, Eriq La Salle as Lisa’s jeri-curl sporting boyfriend Daryl, and Samuel L. Jackson as a robber.
Other notable supporting roles include Madge Sinclair as Akeem’s kindly mother Queen Aeoleon, John Amos as Lisa’s warm and hard-working father Cleo, James Earl Jones as Akeem’s intimidating yet well-meaning father King Jaffee Joffer. Shari Headley is wonderful as Lisa, the woman Akeem falls for as she displays a sense of worldly realism and grace that Akeem wants in a woman. Arsenio Hall is excellent as Akeem’s friend Semmi who has a hard time dealing with not having money and such while Hall also gets to play various characters such as the boisterous Reverend Brown, the funny barber Morris, and an extremely ugly woman in a hilarious club scene as Akeem and Semmi try to find what Queens has to offer.
Finally, there’s Eddie Murphy in what is truly one of his best performance as Prince Akeem of Zamunda. Murphy brings an enthusiasm and maturity to his role as a man wanting to seek true love while discovering the world outside of being rich and pampered. It’s a very funny and sensitive performance for Murphy as he also plays various characters. Among them is the barber Clarence who always say Joe Louis is the greatest boxer ever while playing a white Jewish man named Saul who hangs out at the barber shop. Then there’s another character Murphy plays in an untalented/actor singer named Randy Watson where he gives a hilarious rendition of Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All in one of the funniest moments on film.
Coming to America is an extraordinary yet entertaining film from John Landis that features Eddie Murphy in one of his outstanding performances. The film is among the best of Landis’ collaboration with Murphy as well as a comedy that is still funny nearly twenty-five years since its release. With a superb supporting cast that includes Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley, John Amos, and James Earl Jones. It’s a film that has a lot more to offer in terms of what is expected in a comedy. In the end, Coming to America is a tremendous and exciting film from John Landis.
John Landis Films: (Schlock) - (Kentucky Fried Movie) - (National Lampoon’s Animal House) - (The Blues Brothers) - (An American Werewolf in London) - (Coming Soon) - Trading Places - (The Twilight Zone (1983 film)) - (Into the Night) - (Spies Like Us) - (Three Amigos!) - (Amazon Women on the Moon) - (Oscar) - (Innocent Blood) - (Beverly Hills Cop III) - (The Stupids) - (Blues Brothers 2000) - (Susan’s Plan) - (Slasher) - (Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project) - (Burke & Hare)
© thevoid99 2012
I have been hoping this film gets selected for the LAMB MOTM for a while now. I never get tired of watching this film, the jokes still hold up years later. Even the romance still plays well. Great review.
I've been voting that film constantly as well.
I can quote that movie from start to finish. I love it so much.
"I've got a secret... I worship the devil"
"See, that's the problem. I can't find a man that can satisfy me. Some go one, an hour-and-a-half. Man's gotta work overtime for me honey".
"I'm not interested in a man unless he drives a BMW. Yeah baby, you know I'm almost single. My husband is on death row. This is the first date we've been on... since the doctor separated us. I'm into the group thing. I was Joan of Arc in my former life. My name is Peaches and I'm the best. All the DJs want to feel my breasts. Hiccup, hiccup, hiccup."
"And you know I want to be a pop singer and a rock singer. Write my own songs. Produce my own songs. Then I want to be an actress and produce my own movies. People say how naturally talented I am..."
And my favorite part... "I hope you don't mind me sitting but I've been watching you from afar. And I want to tear you apart! And yo' friend too!!"
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