Coming To America (1988). Directed by John Landis. With Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones.
Bored with underlings bowing to please and adore him, Prince Akeem of Zamunda (Murphy) gets cold feet at the elaborate ceremony of his arranged marriage and opts (along with his servant Semi) to travel to the USA to find true love.
Toying with cultural naivety can be a rich home to implant comedic grappling hooks (Sasha Baron Cohen has made a career out of it). Indeed, it is the overriding lynchpin of Coming To America, serving to put us on the journey as our characters seek to go from heavenly paradise to the bottom rung of the American dream. The director (John Landis) establishes the fun of this cultural chasm with extreme contrast.
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are well synchronised. As Akeem, Murphy adopts the guise of innocence well. Audiences know him from 48Hrs, or as Axel Foley, the foul-mouthed fast talker from Beverley Hills Cop. Stripping him of his streetwise schtick works well and leaves the door open for him to apply his excitable comedy from another angle.
As Akeem’s father and King of Zamunda, James Earl Jones is comedically commanding, projecting his distinctive Vader-esque authority while literally wearing a lion across his chest (Lion King anyone?).
There is one inspired movie in-joke that links to another Murphy film, Trading Places though not all of the humour lands. Some of it actually stinks – Arsenio Hall in drag (he’s credited as ‘Extremely Ugly Girl’) is out of tune, indeed much of Murphy and Hall in multiple roles skirts closer to overindulgence than comedy genius.
With a bright, uptempo feel the fairytale rom-com aspiration of the central plot ensures an easy appeal. At close to two-hours it is perhaps a touch over long but there is charm in abundance and while the movie isn’t laugh-in-the-aisles hilarious, it has more than enough to see it through.