Film Review: Zamunda Returns

Eddie Murphy’s magical place that resembles a chaotic land of Oz has returned! After the first Coming to America landed in 1988, the thirst for these Zamundans is quenched with a touching story arriving thirty-three years after the original film made fans, waves, and a critical court case. Buchwald vs Paramount (1990.)

That the estate of the late columnist, Art Buchwald, is thanked in the closing credits warms the heart as much as this film does.

Lines like “morally bereft woman” and “I was happy you would put a stem on an apple of your own” – sexually suggestive at every turn, garnered this movie a mere PG-13 rating, which is shocking in and of itself.

That the audience enjoys the salty language and cheap sex talk is part of the fun, balanced with Cleo McDowell’s maturity, his daughter Lisa McDowell, and Eddy Murphy himself.

The shock, though, is on us who saw and loved the original. The cast has aged! The acting skills are fine, and the story is terrific. Murphy and director Craig Brewer keep the first film’s theme (directed by John Landis) in Landis’s flavor. What does jolt, though, is on us. Thirty-three years on, these royals can’t stop the clock.

There’s James Earl Jones on his deathbed again, like in 1992’s Patriot Games. I don’t think it is unintentional. Not only does this new film, Coming2America, make sport of its original 1988 incarnation, but it also reprises elements of The Birdcage, Trading Places, Nutty Professor, and the double bang of your feelings for the original AND those other films a calculated play, which works.

To be redundant: John Landis directed both the original Coming to America and Trading Places, so this approach of referencing much of the original’s magic with audience memories of other motion pictures turns out to be a delight.

King Jaffe Joffer gives himself a memorable send-off as he passes the crown to Akeem. At the same time, Vanessa Bell Calloway as the left-at-the-altar bride-to-be, Imani Izzi, comes back as the sister of Wesley Snipes’, General Izzi. With Shari Headley’s Lisa McDowell having to put up with the lady-in-waiting from 1988 as well as the newfound fling, Mary “moms” Junson, mother of the new Prince of Zamunda,

Lavelle Junson, the plot is easy to follow, with the fun as expected as The Golden Girls’ episode. Louie Anderson, as Maurice is stuck in Groundhog Day, the perpetual employee of McDowell’s. The in-your-face product placement, from McDonald’s to Pepsi, Sabrett Hot Dogs, Madison Square Garden, Ray-Ban Aviator Men’s Sunglasses, Puma Men’s Jacket to another famous brand that escapes me at the moment. It’s all mixed in …real-life marketing devices to fragments of films you’ve seen before, some that had nothing to do with the Zumanda thread, like the aforementioned The Birdcage.

With Beverly Hills Cop IV on the horizon, after Shreks 2 and 3, sequels are Hollywood gold. This writer’s opinion is that the 33-year wait between the Coming to America film and sequel is one that will be highly popular all involved didn’t cross too many lines that can’t be ignored.

But as the Lethal Weapons series and Die Hard sequel after sequel gradually shows us the aging process, Coming2America hits you hard with the stark reality.

Star Wars bringing back the old cast and crew had us expecting that Luke Skywalker and his sister would age gracefully – after all, Star Wars is about mortality with more gunshots than The Godfather (note: I watched both the Godfather and Star Wars back to back this past weekend, Feb 28, 2021, and there is MORE violence in Star Wars than the Godfather and its sequels. Think about THAT! …(it’s just done more politely)

Seeing Eddie Murphy as the older man that he is, and Cleo and Lisa and Oha (Paul Bates) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall), what Murphy and director Brewer (and earlier director Landis) have done is shown us a reflection of our maturing process. It’s an unintended consequence of waiting so long, and it, magically, brings the audience even closer to the film.

The story, this time, is wide open for sequel after sequel. The sooner, the better.