I’ve sort of been doing a lot of people favors-via-movie recently. By that I mean that the previous film I watched was Being There, recommended by my dad, and the one I watched last night was Coming to America, recommended by one of my best friends. Or maybe these viewings aren’t so much favors as they are ways of getting to know the people in my life even better. Insert mushy statement here.
Anyway. Coming to America was cute and absurd and not at all what I expected. I thought it would be way over-the-top, with crazy accents and a ton of physical comedy, and maybe I just expected that because I’m spoiled (like everyone else) with beautiful special effects and fast-paced dialogue and well-researched portrayals and the like. This movie had none of that, save maybe for the makeup, but it was still amusing.
In order to enjoy this movie, you have to suspend all your judgements about 80s movies. The foreign land from which Eddie Murphy’s prince character comes, for example, looks like a tapestry that was literally placed in front of the camera to simulate an actual place. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they really did. It’s bad. But that air of campiness also makes the whole viewing experience more fun. Same with the exaggerated “royal” treatment that the prince receives at the start of the movie. “The royal penis is clean” is probably the most laugh-inducing line in the whole film, but it’s a good one. And then there’s James Earl Jones as the king. Now this is a guy who I think kind of sold himself out too early in life. He played too many of these throaty caricatures in his prime grandpa years, and it’s too bad. But he does make a convincing king nevertheless. And then there’s Arsenio Hall, who might be the worst actor ever. He can’t even hold a straight face around Murphy. I wouldn’t blame him, except basically every scene he has is with Murphy.
Murphy isn’t much better. Though he opted not to laugh in that dumb lilt throughout this film, he still didn’t try very hard to have a believable accent. Which is difficult considering his character came from a made-up country. See, again, it’s important to ignore stuff like this if you want to enjoy the movie. Clearly I am not practicing what I preach. I need to embrace the camp.
There are actually quite a few positives. One, Frankie Faison plays the prince’s American landlord. Two, Shari Headley is adorable as Lisa, the prince’s lady love. Three, the makeup on Murphy and Hall is fantastic. And four, the makeup needed to be fantastic because Murphy and Hall each played like 4 characters. Had I not known ahead of time that they’d be double- and triple-teaming the cast (or that Murphy has a tendency to play multiple characters in a single movie, ugh), it would have slipped right past me. Now that’s talent, any way you slice it.