Director John Landis may have taken a slow dive in terms of his movie quality recently, but almost everything he helmed in the 1980s was golden. Starting with The Blues Brothers in 1980, nearly all of these were hits, ending with Coming to America in 1988. While not a brilliant comedy, nor one of the all time classics, the chemistry between Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy is unforgettable.
Playing an heir to an African throne, Eddie Murphy is tired of his extravagant lifestyle and yearns for something more than an arranged marriage. Off to New York he goes, along with his servant played by Hall, to find the right woman in the middle of Queens. Obviously, they know little of what they’re up against, and their misadventure is sheer hilarity.
Coming to America takes some time to get started. It’s over 20 minutes before Murphy arrives in America, and there is little in the way of necessary character development past the opening moments (and the non-existent wedding). When they arrive, the story begins down a predictable path which oddly isn’t the focus.
The story here is a cast of characters who make this romance work. Murphy and Hall are incredible in various stages of make-up, handled by Hollywood master Rick Baker. It’s unreal to believe Murphy plays an old white Jewish man, as the make-up job is flawless. The characters become the story, at times almost turning this into skit comedy.
Much of the banter at the local barber shop is fluff, but it’s incredibly entertaining fluff. Never does the audience realize that so little of this content advances the story. It’s impossible not to laugh to the point of tears at times.
Shari Headley and John Amos also play critical roles, with Amos taking his share of comedic lines as well. James Earl Jones brings his stature as the king of fictional country Zamunda with class, giving the film an unexpected dramatic boost at the end.
Loaded with zippy one liners, Coming to America epitomizes everything that was right with Eddie Murphy’s career in the 1980s. Arsenio Hall also shows his legs here, and it’s a shame he never did more movies. John Landis brings his trademark timing and style, and it all combines into this hilarious comedy that’s worth revisiting regularly. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Coming to America may have been released in 1988, but it doesn’t look like it. This is an impressive, clean, sharp transfer. Colors are bursting off the screen, and the fine layer of grain is left intact. Detail is surprising and while the occasional shot may look soft, it’s rarely noticeable, or it’s too brief to care. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Sadly, the audio doesn’t have much of an impact (or an opportunity to do so). Other than a fireworks display in the early going, the rear speakers have no activity. There is some noticeable front separation in terms of city background noise and a little dialogue. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
A couple of featurettes highlight a small assortment of extras. Prince-ipal Photography is a 25 minute retrospective piece with interviews of the filmmakers. Character Building picks apart the makeup work done by Baker for the film for 12 minutes.
Fit for Akeem is a look at the Oscar nominated costume design. Composing America is a piece on Nile Rodgers, music producer. A Vintage Sit Down with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall is a promotional interview from 1988 done for promotion of the film. Trailers and a photo gallery are all that remain. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]