Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is the prince of a wealthy African country and wants for nothing, except a wife who will love him in spite of his title. To escape an arranged marriage, Akeem flees to America accompanied by his persnickety sidekick, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to find his queen. Disguised as a foreign student working in fast food, he romances Lisa (Shari Headley), but struggles with revealing his true identity to her and his marital intentions to his king father (James Earl Jones).
There’s something so oddly endearing about John Landis’s Coming to America, that many people have also come to find, but can’t seem to put their finger on exactly what it is. Perhaps it’s the movie’s great sense of humor that never comes across as trying too hard, but rather coming across as witty and clever.
Perhaps it’s the gorgeous color palette on display that’s further accentuated by Sol Negrin and Woody Omens’ amazing cinematography. Perhaps its the delightfully charming and comforting performances by the lead stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall that make Coming to America such a beloved film even decades after its initial release. Or perhaps it’s all three ingredients combined.
It’s so easy to sit back and watch this film with a gigantic smile on your face and have the entire movie come to a close before you even realize it. It’s a two-hour movie that feels like ten minutes in all the best ways. Not only is the film outstandingly funny, but it also manages to tell a genuinely heartwarming and feel-good story of one man’s journey to the United States, where he attempts to find love in a place he has never been before.
But when he gets there he finds more than just love. He finds a place that he loves dearly in New York City. He loves the culture around him and he does his best to make as many new friends in the area as he can. And despite the fact that he is filthy rich, he still wants to work because he feels like he doesn’t deserve all this money simply because he was raised as a prince in a wealthy palace.
He gets a job at a parody of McDonald’s called McDowell’s and makes some new friends and acquaintances along the way. The beauty of making friends in new places and learning to love the world around you is such an excellent theme that Coming to America touches upon that I feel not enough people talk about.
And honestly, who else could have portrayed Akeem and Semmi besides Murphy and Hall? These two actors are screen legends at this point, and their performances here are nothing short of great. They are wonderfully goofy in all the right ways and they are so comforting to watch as a duo here. I’m really hoping that these two are just as electric and exciting in the upcoming sequel.
But Coming to America certainly isn’t a movie that everybody is destined to love. It’s a wild and often times slow comedy that doesn’t want to come at you with a barrage of jokes in the hopes that you’ll laugh non-stop. It’s rather a feel-good love story and a coming-of-age story with some great humor mixed in throughout. Sure, sometimes it may feel like it lacks focus and it’s relatively simple in its execution, but Coming to America is definitely a beloved comedy for a reason.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: John Landis
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: June 29, 1988
Running Time: 117 minutes