A look at Eddie Murphy’s recent filmography reveals a wealth of family friendly PG rated roles. From Dr. Dolittle and its sequel, to Daddy Day Care, to the Disney themed park ride based Haunted Mansion, Murphy has been relying almost entirely on younger children for his box office business for nearly a decade. It’s tough to fault him for it.
These films have been almost unanimous moneymakers at the box office. However, there was a time when Murphy was considered to be a young, exciting comedic performer. 1988’s Coming to America represents Murphy striking a perfect balance between his rough Beverly Hills Cop persona and his later family friendly roles. Coming to America offers its share of Murphy flexing his raunchy comedic muscles, but it also contains a nice love story.
Murphy plays Akeem, prince of the fictional African country Zamunda. On his 21st birthday, Akeem is supposed to meet his betrothed future queen, but Akeem has grown discontent and wishes to travel and search for his true love. His father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones), believes that Akeem simply wishes to sleep with more women, and sends him to Queens New York to “sow his royal oats.” Along with his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem sets sail, and once in New York, he attempts to “experience normal life.”
So, they take the most run-down apartment they can find, and get a job at a restaurant called McDowell’s – which bears a suspicious resemblance to McDonald’s. While there, Akeem falls for the boss’s daughter Lisa (Shari Headley). However, there are many complications in the way of Akeem and Lisa being together. For one, Lisa is dating Darryl (Eriq La Salle), the son of a rich inventor of jheri curl related products.
Also, Lisa’s sister Patrice (Allison Dean), has taken a liking to Akeem. To top it all off, Akeem has decided to keep his true identity a secret from Lisa, which leads to all sorts of complications.
While nothing presented in Coming to America is rip-roaringly funny, it has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. It is also worth noting that many of the choices made by Murphy and Hall in regards to the movie’s comedy were quite ahead of their time.
For instance, both play four different roles in the movie, including an old Jewish man and a woman. While not all of this works, it is risk-taking comedy, and that is respectable, especially in light of Murphy’s recent choices. In addition, Murphy and Headley develop some nice chemistry, so this part of the story works well.
Overall, Coming to America is probably not Eddie Murphy’s best work, but if you haven’t seen it, it is certainly worth a rental.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at Cdelross@temple.edu