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

 


SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018)

July 12, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. All movie watchers know that the first rule of Fight Club is ‘Don’t talk about Fight Club’. And now we know that the first rule of Telemarketing is STTS: Stick to the script. The similarities between the two movies may be few, but hip-hop artist (The Coup) turned first time filmmaker Boots Riley comes out swinging in this offbeat, quite clever satire on race, corporate culture, economic factions, social division, and politics. It makes for a nice companion piece to last year’s critical darling, GET OUT.

LaKeith Stanfield (GET OUT, SHORT TERM 12) stars as Cassius “Cash” Green, a low key good dude living with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage. Four months behind on rent, Cash wants to do something important with his life, he just doesn’t know how … and his current financial circumstances aren’t helping. You may call him a dreamer, but he’s not the only one (a Lennon reference seems fitting for this film).

Cash’s best buddy Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) gets him an interview at a dingy basement telemarketing firm – an interview that clues us in on the type of humor we are in for. Thanks to advice from one of the veteran telemarketers (Danny Glover), Cash utilizes his “white voice” and immediately has remarkable success … and we get some pretty funny sales call visuals to correspond to the obvious capitalism statement.

Ultimately his sales success gets him promoted to the “power caller” level and his own mentor, accessible only through the gold elevator. This leads to conflict with his friends, his girlfriend and his own moral standards. See, the basement dwellers are being led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun) in an effort to unionize for a living wage and tolerable work environment. As Cash continues to pursue … well, uh … cash … his friends carry out their form of civil disobedience. This leads to police brutality, examples of corporate greed, and the downside to individual ambition.

Armie Hammer plays Steve Lift, the egomaniacal corporate d-bag who takes Cash under his wing – for the purpose of making more money. The sales pitch turns to “Worry Free”, a lifestyle being marketed through brain-washing advertisements for guaranteed food and shelter. One need only commit to a lifetime of corporate servitude. If that sounds like slavery, well, that’s the point Riley is making. It’s not so far off from the life many of us lead today, but of course this is presented in satirical fashion, so we are manipulated into laughing at ourselves and our society. There is even a popular reality TV show titled “I Got the S**T Kicked Out of Me”, and folks can’t get enough!

The story kind of flies off the rails in the second half with some wacko-science fiction genetic engineering. The equisapiens have to be seen, as no written description will do. Even this segment has purpose. It speaks to how individuals and corporations can seize power and head in a questionable direction – all in the name of progress, efficiency and stock price.

Stanfield excels in one of his first lead roles, and Ms. Thompson is her usual shining star. Kate Berlant (as the humorously named Diana DeBauchery) has a couple of excellent scenes, and David Cross and Patton Oswalt are terrific as the (extremely) white voices of Cash and Mr. _________ (played by Omari Hardwick).

Filmmaker Riley offers up not a call to arms, but rather a call to wake up! Many of the decisions here mirror real life. Personal success can cost us friends, and political and professional choices may challenge our inherent morals (here, bordering on Faustian). The film is both provocative and funny, though a bit messy at times. You’ll laugh while you think, or laugh after you think, or think after you laugh … somehow you’ll do both. OFFICE SPACE and Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL may be the closest comparisons; just be cautious if Boots Riley ever invites you to join in some horse play.

watch the trailer: