COMING 2 AMERICA (2021)

March 5, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. The wait was 54 years for MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018) and 35 years for BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), and it’s been almost 33 years since John Landis directed Eddie Murphy in COMING TO AMERICA (1988). So while it’s an unusually lengthy wait for a sequel, it’s certainly not unprecedented. Director Craig Brewer is fresh off a fantastic collaboration with Eddie Murphy in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019), and the writers include Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, who were both involved in the original COMING TO AMERICA (plus other Eddie Murphy projects), and Justin Kanew and Kenya Barris (“Blackish”).

The film opens with Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his wife Princess Lisa (Shari Headley) being greeted in the morning by their three daughters who wish them a happy 30th wedding anniversary. If you recall from the original, Akeem met Lisa on his eventful visit to Queens, NY. Her father Cleo (a returning John Amos) gave Akeem a job at the McDowell’s (not McDonalds) fast food restaurant he owned.

A basic synopsis of the story this time is that King Jaffe Joffer (90 year old James Earl Jones) is near death, which would mean Akeem would take the crown of Zamunda. A brewing conflict involves General Izzi (Wesley Snipes taking over for Calvin Lockhart who passed in 2007) who threatens violence if Akeem doesn’t allow Izzi’s goofball son to marry Akeem’s eldest daughter Meeka (KiKi Layne, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, 2018), who wants nothing to do with him … but does have her sights set on being next in line for the throne after her father. A film about Meeka could be interesting on its own. Of course, Zamunda law requires a male heir, and that’s the final kicker, as Akeem learns he has an illegitimate son conceived from a drug-fueled episode during his previous trip to Queens.

The royal jet whisks Akeem and his trusty sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall) back to Queens, where after a trip to visit with all the old characters from the neighborhood barbershop, they track down Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, 2018), son of Mary Junson (Leslie Jones). A flashback gives us context to Mary and Akeem’s moment of passion. It’s at this point where we also meet Lavelle’s Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan). The Queen’s clan then heads back to Zamunda.

While there is a story, this is not a movie in the traditional sense. Instead it’s a nostalgic trip for a big chunk of the cast, as well as for the target audience. An abundance of cameos will keep viewers on their toes, and any movie that features two of the greatest movie voices of all-time, James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman, deserves extra credit. For me, there were no big laughs; however, I enjoyed a few good chuckles … the best being “Idiot Amin” (your ears have to work fast in the barbershop). The homage to TRADING PLACES was a nice touch, as was a particular finger wag, and a joke about sequels. It seems odd (given the title) that only a very small percentage of the story takes place in America, but I’m sure many will enjoy the outtakes over closing credits, and a surprise musical bonus after that. Also worth noting is that this sequel gets a PG-13 rating versus the R-rating of the original.

Amazon Studios will exclusively release COMING 2 AMERICA globally on Prime Video March 5th, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

October 7, 2019

North Texas Film Festival 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. The old flea market adage is “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”, and the same can be said for comedy. What you find obtuse and humorless may be the funniest thing your neighbor has ever seen or heard. No scientist can explain this phenomenon, and it’s never been better exemplified than with a scene in director Craig Brewer’s (BLACK SNAKE MOAN, HUSTLE & FLOW) latest film. Rudy Ray Moore and his group of friends are in a theatre watching Billy Wilder’s comedy THE FRONT PAGE (1974), starring Walther Matthau and Jack Lemmon. The befuddled looks on the faces of Moore and his cohorts can’t mask their confusion over the raucous laughter in the theatre and what they are viewing on screen. It’s a turning point for Rudy Ray Moore and his next career step.

Eddie Murphy stars as Rudy Ray Moore, and though it’s not necessary, having some knowledge of the career of the real Mr. Moore will likely enhance your viewing experience during this exceedingly entertaining, and sometimes riotous biopic. Ruby Ray Moore was a hustler who dreamed of making it big in show business – first as a singer, then as a stand-up comedian, and finally as movie star. His ambition and dreams kept him going, even after others wrote him off. We first meet Rudy as an assistant manager at Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store. He’s trying to smooth-talk the store DJ (Snoop Dogg) into playing Rudy’s R&B records … one of which is “The Ring-A-Ling-Dong” song. The DJ tells him the time for that music has passed, but the next light bulb soon goes off Rudy. A local panhandler (a terrific Ron Cephus Jones cameo) regales those in the store with tall tales from the ‘hood. Rudy decides to fine-tune those tales and turn it into a comedy act.

Add some clothes and attitude and that’s how Dolemite was born … Rudy Ray Moore’s onstage alter ego – part pimp, part rapping philosopher. His memorable catchphrase is repeated a few times throughout the film, and I’ll do my best to present a PG version: “Dolemite is my name, and ‘effing’ up mother-‘effers’ is my game.” Yep, now you have a better feel for Rudy and Dolemite. However, co-writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewsi (also co-writers on Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, 1994), and especially Eddie Murphy, dig much deeper and provide a look at the man, his friends, and his career pursuits.

It’s pretty interesting to see a guy, without much going for him, figure out a strategy that ends up working. Part of his wisdom was in ‘knowing his audience’. His own preferences, and those of his friends, played right into what went on stage, on vinyl, and on screen. When a producer tells him his act will only be funny to the 5 blocks in Rudy’s neighborhood, Rudy brilliantly responds, “Yeah, but every city in America has these same 5 blocks.” It’s that kind of instinct, along with his generosity, and understanding his own shortcomings, that allowed him to reach a level of success. The scene where he cuts a deal with uppity actor D’Urville Martin (a superbly funny Wesley Snipes) portrays Rudy’s keen sense of persuasion … he played to the ego.

Eddie Murphy reminds us of his immense comedic talents and how he became such a mega-superstar in the first place. Here, he’s not really impersonating or mimicking Moore, but rather capturing his spirit and paying tribute to a man he so clearly respects. The supporting cast is also outstanding. In addition to Mr. Snipes, who we wish had more scenes with Mr. Murphy, Craig Robinson is hilarious as singer Ben Taylor, Keegan-Michael Key is socially-conscious playwright Jerry Jones, Titus Burgess is wide-eyed co-worker Theodore Toney, Mike Epps plays Moore’s pal Jimmy Lynch, and Kodi Smit-McPhee (THE ROAD) plays the student-DP. In addition, we get a couple of other cameos from Chris Rock as DJ Daddy Fatts, and Bob Odenkirk plays a film distributor with dollar signs in his eyes. Deserving of special mention is Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“On Becoming a God in Central Florida”) as Lady Reed, Rudy’s muse and discovery. She is funny and ferocious in this role that should lead to much more work.

The film is produced by Netflix and it screened at the inaugural North Texas Film Festival. The music (Scott Bomar) and especially the costume design (Ruth Carter) are top notch, and contribute to the story and film. Rudy Ray Moore became a Blaxploitation icon at a time when the comedy of Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, and Moms Mabley were popular – so hopefully that gives you some indication of the type of humor the film delivers. Raunchy humor with Kung-Fu action and plenty of skin – that’s the formula for the three Dolemite movies, as well as Moore’s comedy albums (and their covers). This was a time when dropping Fred Williamson’s name garnered instant respect. Some may compare this to James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST, but instead I recall Mario van Peebles’ BAADASSSS!, a tribute to his filmmaking father Melvin. Hopefully your sense of humor will allow you to find the many laughs in this one, because Dolemite is dynamite … and that’ a WRAP!

watch the trailer (LANGUAGE WARNING):