Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem and Arsenio Hall’s Semmi brought the African royalty laughs from Zamunda to Queens, New York when “Coming to America” started its 1988 ascent to cult-level status.
But the raucous comedy also grabbed the imagination with standout smaller characters like Murphy’s Randy Watson, outrageous lead singer of Sexual Chocolate, and Hall’s preaching Rev. Brown.
So when Murphy decided to throw classics to the wind and make a sequel 33 years later, there were going be nods to the original laughs in “Coming 2 America” (now streaming on Amazon Prime).
Here are the best throwback moments to the original:
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Randy Watson may have been the first performer to drop the mic at the end of his performance with his band Sexual Chocolate in the 1988 original. The legendary Watson is back for the sequel as Murphy donned the heavy prosthetic make-up and plenty of padding to groove again for the movie’s big party.
Sexual Chocolate has proven a pervasive, rich treat in pop culture with tribute bands such the Randy Watson Experience, featuring musicians Questlove and James Poyser. Hall has received call-outs for the band since the release, even though it’s Murphy playing the character. “I went to a Supersonics game up in Seattle and this guy yells, ‘Sexual chocolate!’ ” he says. “That’s what my life became after.”
Filmmakers reunited the original Sexual Chocolate band from around the country, including Tori Ruffin on guitar; Brice Sterling, keys; Melvin Davis, bass; Karl Denson, sax; Jeffery Suttles, drums.
“We got the whole band in there,” says Hall.
Sorry McDonald’s, but the Queens fast-food rip-off McDowell’s continues to thrive. Hustling owner Cleo McDowell (John Amos), who continues to deny any similarity to the other burger joint, branches out to a historic Zamunda location with modestly ambitious employee Maurice (Louie Anderson). Maurice is the American dream, finally moving from washing floors, past the grill jobs and into a management position.
Hall’s Reverend Brown is still preaching with his own over-the-top style. Rev. Brown’s Church of the Holy Jubilation comes in handy when Prince Akeem’s son Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) seeks to get married. Can we get an amen?
Murphy performs double duty playing two characters in the My-T-Sharp barber shop, which is still slinging cut downs and the occasional hair cut. Murphy plays owner and alpha cutter Clarence along with Saul, the older white patron. Hall is Morris, the soul food eating barber who never seems to have a customer. “Morris is a horrible barber. And that’s why you never see him cutting hair,” says Hall.
Prince Akeem had personal bathers who kept him from ever having to pick up his own loofah. The bathers have returned in the sequel, but filmmakers made sure that visiting Mary Junson (Leslie Jones) enjoyed her own strapping personal bather manservant (Donny Savage). “We felt it would be much better to have women finally get their due in Zamunda,” says Brewer.
“Coming 2 America” enhances the original’s ongoing gag in which rose petal spreaders drop fragrant cover before every step the royal family takes. Garcelle Beauvais, an original rose bearer, has been promoted to Rose Bearer Priestess in the sequel, who blesses the bounty of rose petals each morning. “It now has almost a spiritual connotation to it,” says Brewer.
Brewer was so intent on hiring the beat-boxing twins Fresh Peaches and Sugar Cube to pay homage to what he calls “most iconic” part of “Coming to America” – where the two hijack a nightclub speed-dating session with their rhymes. One problem: “No one knew were they were,” says Brewer. He resorted to hiring an investigator to track down identical twins Janette Rosillo and Vanessa Colon in New York City. Brewer flew out personally to hire them for a party cameo rap appearance with Watson in the sequel. They still got it.
“To see them come back, with Randy Watson, 20 years later, was a major victory to me,” says Brewer.
The original comedy famously featured Akeem holding out his hand to stop a New York City yellow taxi with a royal “Halt” – only to be met with profanity from the emerging driver. “Coming 2 America” features a new traffic-stopping scene taken from the same distinct angle, but now it’s a Lyft driver (David Lengel).