Combustible Celluloid
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With: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Sheila Johnson, Jake Steinfeld, Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Feather, Stephanie Simon, Garcelle Beauvais, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Elaine Kagan, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Clint Smith, Victoria Dillard, Felicia Taylor, Midori (Michele Watley), Raymond D. Turner, Billi Gordon, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Written by: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, based on a story by Eddie Murphy
Directed by: John Landis
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 116
Date: 06/29/1988

Coming to America (1988)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Prince Disarming

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Eddie Murphy stars as an African prince who convinces his father, the king (James Earl Jones) to let him spend 40 days in America before jumping into his arranged marriage. Once there, he hides his wealth and meets the girl of his dreams, the very sweet Lisa (Shari Headley), though he also faces many of the usual roadblocks. Directed by John Landis, Coming to America was a fairly expensive comedy during its day, but it also became one of the year's biggest moneymakers. It featured gimmicks like stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall performing several roles in very elaborate makeup (which received an Oscar nomination). Watching it again today, I liked it as much as I did when it was new, but I was more struck by director John Landis' interesting touch. Landis had a very successful run for about 10 years and then floundered with box office and critical flops, though he's much more appreciated in Europe. He takes a very specific joy in the act of moviemaking and calls attention to it, placing it at a level above the romantic story. He loves using cavernous spaces for long comic pauses before hitting us with the joke. He also uses simple ideas, like cutting to a dog for "reaction shots" during an argument, to lengthen the beats and make the scene funnier. He insists on many in-jokes, such as his signature line "See You Next Wednesday" (appearing here on a movie poster), a reference to his earlier film Trading Places (1983), and other pokes and jabs at friends (as well as gratuitous nudity). However, I think this attention to style has often caused people to feel a lack of emotional connection to his works, which in turn caused his downfall. It would be great to see Landis get a second chance in this country, and a retrospective of his works would clearly show an unbridled enthusiasm and a very definite personality. Aside from a music video, Landis and Murphy worked together just once more, in the reviled Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). Samuel L. Jackson and other future stars can be glimpsed here.

DVD Details: Paramount has re-released the film in a 2009 DVD with new "I Love the 80's" packaging -- with a bonus CD of 1980s music -- though the DVD itself doesn't appear to have been improved or updated in any way. There are no extras (only a trailer), and not even any subtitles.

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