Coming to America (1988)
Coming to America (1988)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: June 29th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Landis Actors: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Vanessa Bell, Allison Dean




oming to America” certainly isn’t Eddie Murphy’s funniest film, but it does make excellent use of the gimmick he would reuse in many of his later movies (including “The Nutty Professor” [1996] and “Norbit”). Both stars Murphy and Arsenio Hall play four or more characters in the film, many of which share screentime with each other, holding conversations and interacting in typical rapid-fire dialogue form. Makeup and accents only marginally hide their performances, but it’s still an entertaining gag. And believe it or not, “Coming to America” was actually nominated for two Academy Awards, each related to those disguises (Best Costume Design for Deborah Nadoolman and Best Makeup for Rick Baker).

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of Zamunda – a wealthy African city – awakens on his 21st birthday to discover that his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) has chosen a wife for him. Akeem is the exalted ruler of the land, but has never really done anything for himself; he has his teeth brushed for him, he’s bathed by nude beauties, and he even has his rear wiped for him after bathroom visits. Everywhere he walks, three young women drop rose petals at his feet for him to pad upon. It’s a stress-free life, but Akeem wants to break from tradition and find his own wife – someone he will truly love (a concept audiences might find entirely foreign to a sovereign of such exaggerated creature comforts).

The king grants his son 40 days to fulfill his every erotic desire (mistaking Akeem’s mission to find a compatible mate with his wanting to sleep around before settling down with one woman) before he must return home to his arranged marriage. Akeem decides upon Queens, New York as a starting point, and sets off with his servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) in tow. But their completely pampered upbringings in Zamunda can’t prepare them for the hardships of the city, where they arrive dressed from head to toe in royal garbs, despite posing as ordinary African students. Akeem lands a job at a McDowell’s fast food joint (a humorous rip on McDonald’s) and woos the manager’s (John Amos) daughter Lisa (Shari Headley), who, fortunately, doesn’t care much for riches. Darryl (Eriq La Salle) is the competition, currently dating Lisa, and Patrice (Allison Dean) is her much younger sister, who falls for Akeem.

“Coming to America” is incredibly silly, rarely using the oft-filmed harshness of New York as an expected grounding in reality (though Samuel L. Jackson does provide a hilarious bit part as a hold-up man, unceremoniously dubbed “diseased rhinoceros pizzle”). Nonstop jokes are intended to keep the audience entertained, but many are overwhelmingly immature or simply not that funny. It’s a standard fish-out-of-water comedy that unwisely leaves a large number of opportunities for legitimately humorous situations completely undeveloped, instead relying heavily on generally witty comedians to be themselves – while Murphy’s multi-role gimmick is swiftly overkilled.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10