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‘Coming to America’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 01, 1988

 


Director:
John Landis
Cast:
Eddie Murphy;
Arsenio Hall;
James Earl Jones;
John Amos;
Madge Sinclair;
Shari Headley;
Eriq LaSalle;
Cuba Gooding Jr.;
Samuel L. Jackson
R
Under 17 restricted


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You won't believe it: Eddie Murphy, King of the Expletive, playing a good-natured, romantic lead and African king of the jungle.

Confined to being a nice guy, a royal nice guy, he precludes himself from the kind of comedy his fans would expect. What you get instead is a light, slow-moving love story only scantly peppered with laughs.

In "Eddie Murphy Raw," the comedian's misogynic and remarkably unfunny concert movie, Murphy expressed a desire to meet a woman who knew nothing of his millions and who wouldn't take up the lifestyles of the rich and famous as soon as he married her. He figured only an African tribal woman would fit the bill.

Well, here he acts out that fantasy, only in slightly altered form: Murphy is the African, and the Ideal Murphy Woman, he figures, is American. He's Prince Akeem, sole heir to the rich, fictional kingdom of Zamunda -- a soundstage Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent, where benevolent wild animals roam and where Prince Eddie, er, Akeem, basks in the extravagant attention of his slaves. They serenade him when he awakes, sponge him (all over) in the bath and strew petals in his path. But now that he's 21, it's time for an arranged bride, say his sovereign parents (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair, both respectable in their roles).

Headstrong Akeem decides to go abroad and meet someone with a mind of her own. Taking along his sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall), he opts to find Dis Womun in New York (unfamiliar with America, he naturally expects to find her in Queens). We now move to the New York of "Arthur" and "Trading Places," where the rich play poor for a day. (Murphy, in fact, will later bump into Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, the billionaire curmudgeons of "Trading Places," now raggedy winos. When Murphy hands them a sizeable wad of money, Ameche declares "We're back!" You've been warned.)

Akeem and Semmi go as incognito (with an enormous collection of princely luggage) as royalty can allow to New York. Akeem, to Semmi's chagrin, rents the shabbiest room in the neighborhood, and espies Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), whose father (John Amos) owns a copycat fast-food restaurant with golden arches called McDowell's. In romantic pursuit, Akeem and a reluctant Semmi get a job sweeping floors there. The rest of "America" is devoted to Akeem's efforts to court Lisa without revealing he's filthy rich.

This lightweight vehicle spends most of its time lugging exposition; and the main lugger is romantic lead Murphy, whose comic energies are thus wasted. Hall, former nutty-witty host of Fox Television's "The Late Show," is not allowed to strut his stuff or play off Murphy. Most of the laughs are invested in the subsidiary (and broader) characters, some of them played by Murphy and Hall in disguise. The main pleasure in "America" comes in the romancing of prince and pauper. But the comedy is a mere handmaiden.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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