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‘Coming to America’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 29, 1988


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

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His every wish is granted, his every whim catered to. A string orchestra awakens him every morning and, wherever he goes, luscious beauties scatter rose petals in his path. These same beauties bathe him, dress him and perform even more intimate duties. At 21, he's never even tied his own shoes.

Watching "Coming to America," you get the feeling that, at last, Eddie Murphy has made a movie on a subject he knows something about. The character he plays is Prince Akeem, sole heir to the throne of the African kingdom of Zamunda. But in spite of all the fringe benefits, the boy prince rejects the life of pampered luxury. And this includes the stunningly handsome but obsequious young woman who's been selected to be his bride. Instead, he says, he wants a woman who "arouses my intellect as well as my loins." And where will he find such a woman?


And where in America can they find a woman fit for a king?


In the hands of a filmmaker with some sensitivity or feel for atmosphere, "Coming to America" might have been an appealing comic fable -- a sort of "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" in reverse. But neither director John Landis nor the scriptwriters -- David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein wrote it from a story by Murphy -- capitalize on the fairy-tale aspects of the prince's situation.

Nor are they able to involve us in their love story. This role was designed to present a softer side of Murphy, but playing a convincing romantic lead may be beyond him at this point. In pursuing his queen -- a strong-willed young woman named Lisa (Shari Headley) -- Murphy is more businesslike than love-struck.

Accompanying Akeem on his American sojourn is his best friend Semmi, who, as played by Arsenio Hall, is kind of a cross between Eddie Haskell and Sammy Davis Jr. And even though they're pals offscreen, the two don't seem to spark each other. They are good together, though, in the film's funniest scene -- the one in which they visit a singles bar and, in the process of auditioning marital candidates, run into everything from devil-worshipers to Siamese twins.

"Coming to America" has a far gentler spirit than the "Beverly Hills Cop" films, and Murphy, who seems to have based his performance on Yul Brynner's in "The King and I," at least tries to sustain his character throughout. But in Landis' hands, the film doesn't live up to even the meagerest of expectations.

Murphy and Hall are also transformed by make-up wizard Rick Baker to play four smaller parts, including, for the star, an elderly Jewish man. And there's a small irony in having Murphy play the film's only white character, but even though he performs it well, it's far from a new bit.

James Earl Jones, who plays Akeem's father, the King, isn't doing anything new either, but he manages to lend dignity to the proceedings, as does Madge Sinclair, who plays his wife, the Queen.

"Coming to America" isn't as aggressively awful as the "Cop" films or "The Golden Child," but at least in those films there was something to react to. In making "Coming to America," Murphy seems to have set his sights on the lowest prize imaginable. He aspires to blandness.

Coming to America, at area theaters, is rated R, contains nudity and makes abundant use of profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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