By Ellen Gamerman
In “Coming 2 America,” the long-awaited follow-up to the Eddie Murphy-Arsenio Hall classic, two characters bond over a shared disdain for sequels. “If something is good,” one says, “why ruin it?”
They could have been quoting real-life fans who are so protective of the movie—the story of an African prince who poses as a lowly student while searching for a wife in Queens, N.Y.—that they don’t want anyone to mess with their memories of it. Now, after more than three decades, the sequel arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.
“Coming to America” was the second-highest grossing movie in the country when it came out in 1988. It stood apart as an all-Black film at a time when people of color were barely represented on screen. Its cultural impact has only grown since then. Over the years, fans have recited all the movie’s famous lines, watched it in back-to-back TV marathons and dressed up like its characters (see Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Halloween 2015).
The sequel reunites the original cast, including James Earl Jones, John Amos and Shari Headley—and Mr. Murphy as Prince Akeem alongside Mr. Hall as the royal attendant Semmi—while bringing in new characters played by Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones. Bella Murphy, one of Mr. Murphy’s children, makes her debut as a royal daughter.
When fans saw the sequel’s family-friendly PG-13 rating, some assumed the worst, believing anything too clean would fail the R-rated original. Will the movie’s signature epithet return as an offensively bland “Forget you”?
Craig Brewer said characters can’t use the f-word as a verb given ratings rules but otherwise it is allowed in PG-13 movies. (There is a total of one f-bomb in the “Coming 2 America” script, according to the production.) Mr. Brewer, 49, who loved the 1988 comedy in high school when he saw it with his dad while growing up in Vallejo, Calif., said Mr. Murphy urged him to avoid taking the bait on crude jokes that came too easily. The film’s creators wanted to attract a new generation of fans along with the diehards—some of them ’80s kids who remember it as the first movie with swearing that they ever saw.
The original movie from director John Landis arrived when Mr. Murphy was a big-screen supernova, after films like “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” “Coming to America” went on to make more than $288 million at the global box office.
In the sequel, Prince Akeem of the make-believe country Zamunda searches for a grown son he didn’t realize he had in New York. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Hall return to their old stomping grounds—this time, a more woke and gentrified city—and briefly appear digitally altered as their younger selves. They also reprise the assortment of side characters they originally played in the first film.
Mr. Brewer’s past movies include Mr. Murphy’s critically praised “Dolemite Is My Name” in 2019 and the 2005 drama “Hustle & Flow.” He has felt the pressure of following a hit after directing the 2011 remake of “Footloose.”
Here, Mr. Brewer talks about what Wakanda has to do with Zamunda, the female character who barks like a dog and why he wants to mash up “Coming to America” with “Trading Places.” Edited from an interview:
How did “Coming to America” change Hollywood?
“Coming to America” over the years has had more of a cultural and cinematic impact than it necessarily did right when it came out. Only now can people look back and say, “Wow, that was an all African American cast, it was a big budget movie, comparatively, huge numbers, tons of costumes, and it was a global hit.” And that had not really happened in cinema history. The big joke is that before there was Wakanda, there was Zamunda, and it’s really true.
As a white director, did you have any conversations about whether the film would go to a Black filmmaker?
I’m in an interesting position in my career—all my mentors that I’ve worked with are African American. I am by no means saying that I’m somehow grandfathered into anything like this. I think it has put an impression on me that the most important thing I need to do is surround myself with African-American artists and try to create an environment where everybody can do their thing. So when “Coming 2 America” came about, I had brought it up to some of the people, like, “Is this going to be a problem for anybody?” But Eddie was just so happy with “Dolemite” and with our working relationship that I think he felt that I was the guy for the job.
In the original movie, there are jokes about topless women who bathe the prince and other humor Hollywood might not try now. How did you make the movie work for today?
We didn’t want to ignore the fact that Prince Akeem in the first movie left the wife that he was betrothed to through his king hopping and barking like a dog. I can guarantee you that would not make it through the third draft of a script that would come through the Hollywood system today. There was always this line that we had to judge with how far we’d go with the comedy. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this better be a PG-13 movie.” If an R-rated movie would work then we would do an R-rated movie. We found as we started testing it with fans of the original, we were testing it when there were Black Lives Matter protests happening in the streets, the conscience of the country was beginning to shift, and so we asked, “How can we still be relevant to this movie, to be funny but at the same time be sensitive to racial and gender issues?” I don’t want that to scare people. I think we still have a really hilarious movie and we do push the boundaries on a PG-13 movie here and there. If you look at the first movie, other than the gratuitous nudity of the bathers and some swearing, it is actually rather wholesome. It’s got a fairytale feel to it.
How many times can you use the f-word in a PG-13 movie?
It’s tricky. I can say “f— you,” I just can’t say “I want to f— you.” The way it was explained to me was that [ratings officials] don’t want to have anything in a PG-13 movie that parents are going to have to explain to their children. There were a couple of moments where they said, “You know, if you just trim this one word then we won’t have a problem with it.”
On set, did you feel the weight of fans’ expectations?
I know what it’s like to have people go, “Can’t wait to see it” and then threaten me and say, “You better not mess it up because that movie means a lot to me.” My job on set was to be the guardian of what from the original movie can be celebrated, and then what’s going overboard, because we did want this movie to be its own thing.
Is there going to be a “Coming 3 America”?
In the first “Coming to America” and our “Coming 2 America” we have a nod to “Trading Places.” I would love nothing better than to see some sort of crossover movie where Dan Aykroyd’s character from “Trading Places” actually needs King Akeem and his family to help with some sort of global heist. It would be funny just to say, “Hey everybody, this is ‘Alien vs. Predator.’ ”
SOURCE : WALL STREET JOURNAL