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Review: Coming to America

April 17, 2012

And so, we come to the last of March’s reviews, and only seventeen days late! Coming to America is one of the great romantic comedies of recent times, surpassed possibly by only When Harry Met Sally. So you might be wondering, why choose this over one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time? Eddie Murphy in his prime.

This film is Eddie Murphy at the top of his game. He’s just come off of Beverly Hills Cop II and Eddie Murphy RawBeverly Hills Cop III was still six years away, Bowfinger was still more than a decade off, and the less said about Norbit and Meet Dave, the better.

But there’s more to this movie than just Eddie Murphy. There’s a whole roster of stars: Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Vanessa Bell, John Amos, Louie Anderson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Samuel L. “Motherfucking” Jackson. Hell, even Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprise their roles from Trading Places, as the now-destitute Randolph and Mortimer Duke.

But what about the film itself? I’m getting there, I’m getting there. We start with a flyover of deepest Africa, and eventually pull up at the Royal Palace of Zamunda, where we see Prince Akeem’s daily ritual play out – his teeth are brushed by servants, he’s manually gargled by servants, he’s bathed by topless female servants. He isn’t even given the liberty of wiping himself, having royal wipers to do it. We then learn that this is a special day because, in addition to being the prince’s twenty-first birthday, it is also the day that he will meet his arranged wife.

As it turns out, the prince has grown dissatisfied with his life of pampering and being treated as the prince rather than just as a person. Yeah, not exactly the freshest of plots, is it? Just then, Semmi comes in to take Prince Akeem for his daily workout, which involves training with quarterstaves. And then at Akeem’s birthday party, a native-style dance number! And then one of the servants starts singing, and in a higher pitch than I would have expected, about the prince’s bride to be. And then it all just sort of stops. He leaves the party to talk to his arranged bride, and the dance number and singing are never mentioned again.

Akeem soon realizes that his arranged bride has been trained to obey his every command. He tries to talk to the king about his desire for a woman who will be more than a royal concubine, but the king assumes that he wants to “sow his royal oats”, and gives him forty days to go out into the world. Akeem tells Semmi about his plan to travel to America to find a mate who will “arouse [his] intellect as well as [his] loins.” They settle on New York as their landing, but where in the city can they find a woman suitable for a king? Why, Queens, of course!

They take a cab loaded with their four cartloads of baggage to “the most common part” of Queens, where they find an apartment (the last tenants, a blind man and his seeing eye dog, were killed there), and immediately have all their shit stolen. The two try going to every bar in Queens, but run into every emotionally damaged woman in the five boroughs.

From the barber under their apartment building, they learn about a black awareness rally, where Akeem sees his dream girl, Lisa McDowell. She works at her father’s fast food restaurant (which is the source of a misunderstanding between Mr. McDowell and McDonalds), where Akeem and Semmi go the very next day to get jobs.

The day after going on a double date with Lisa, her sister, and her boyfriend, Akeem foils a robbery the McDowells by Samuel L. “Motherfucking” Jackson, and that night Akeem and Semmi are asked to help out at a party that Mr. McDowell is hosting that night. It turns out that Lisa’s boyfriend and father have made the decision for her to get the two engaged. And all without consulting her.

Akeem offers to make dinner for Lisa at his apartment, but when they arrive he finds that Semmi has bought all manner of expensive things, including an indoor hot tub. Akeem is naturally pissed, having told Lisa that the apartment was very poor, and Lisa saves the date by picking up on Akeem’s shame at his apartment, and suggests that they go out to eat. And along the way, he gives the money he took from Semmi to the now bums Randolph and Mortimer Duke, who thank him while they’re eating.

Lisa’s sister shows up looking for Akeem while he’s out with Lisa, and Semmi tells her that he’s the prince and that Akeem is his servant. This being after Semmi sends a telegram to the king asking for a million dollars, an alarming development that causes the king and his entire crew to show up looking for Akeem. He and Lisa wind up at her home, where her father stalls him until the king can arrive.

After Mr. McDowell tells Lisa that Akeem is Zamundan royalty, she gets very upset, and things are only complicated by the king going to speak with her, seeing as he tells her that Akeem is only in America to “sow his royal oats”. After she runs off, Akeem shows up at her house to find his parents and their entourage. He tries to tell his father that he loves Lisa, but the king won’t listen. Finally, the queen asks if he really loves her, and tells him to go after her.

Akeem manages to catch up to her on the subway and explains that he lied about who he was because he wanted to find someone who would love him for who he is, and not just for his station. Lisa tells him that even though she loves him, she can’t marry him. He goes back to the Waldorf-Astoria and the next day, he and his parents leave for Zamunda.

When they get back, the prince is to be married, with all the notable Zamundans in attendance, even though we never learn any of their names. His bride to be walks down the aisle in a light pink gown, and when Akeem lifts her veil it’s revealed to be Lisa, flown in with her family all the way from Queens. They presumably live happily ever after, and we get the credits, including an extra scene of Eddie Murphy as an old Jew.

In all honesty, I am a huge fan of this movie. And this is the first time I’ve seen it in full. The script is fantastic, the actors…man, this is some of the finest acting I’ve seen in a long time, and if there’s something that I have to nitpick, it’s that the movie does feel a little bit rushed in the last fifth, like they were trying desperately to get the film wrapped up. But even still, it’s something of an unprecedented love story, and the love between Akeem and Lisa seem real. I recommend it, especially for a date night…gentlemen.

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