Eddie Murphy is back on the upswing after a string of terrible films. After his last movie, Dolemite Is My Name, he decided to go back to his comedic roots and do a sequel to one of his early box office hits, even though it’s the one he got sued over for plagiarism. Good luck, Eddie!
To recap briefly, Prince Akeem (Murphy) of Zamunda came to America (Queens, NYC to be exact) to find a bride after his parents set him up with an arranged marriage. With his BFF, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), they took menial jobs at a McDowell’s restaurant to fit in. Akeem then fell in love with Mr. McDowell’s lovely daughter, Lisa (Shari Headley), and ended up marrying her. But you know that this “happily ever after” fairy tale ending just couldn’t be left alone, right? Right!
It’s 30 years later and heavy is the head that wears the crown. Akeem is finally feeling the pressure when his father (James Earl Jones) passes and the rhythmic General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) of the neighboring kingdom, Nextdoria, is threatening war if a marriage-of-convenience isn’t done. On top of that, the crazed palace soothsayer (a barely recognizable Arsenio Hall) says that King Akeem has a bastard son back in Queens, New York! Either he brings his illegitimate son back to Zamunda or he’ll face death!
Akeem and Semmi take off for NYC, find street hustler Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler) and his wild mother, Mary (Leslie Jones), and return, much to the consternation of Queen Lisa and the three royal princesses (Kiki Layne, Bella Murphy, and Akiley Love). Poised to inherit the throne, Akeem & Semmi must groom this young upstart to be Prince Lavelle so he can marry General Izzy’s flamboyant daughter, Bopoto (Teyana Taylor). But, would’cha know it? Lavelle starts to fall for his personal barber, Mirembe (Nomzambo Mbatha), and can’t commit to his pre-arranged marriage, just like Akeem did in the first movie. Sound familiar?
There are tons of references to the first movie from a new McDowell’s restaurant in Zamunda to a quick Trading Places callback to nearly the entire cast coming back to reprise their roles (a moment of silence for the late Madge Sinclair who played Queen Aoleon), and that includes all the side characters that Hall and Murphy played under heavy prosthetic make-up. There’s a line in the movie where Mirembe says that sometimes a movie sequel shouldn’t be done ’cause it’s never as good as the original. Well, she ain’t far from the truth here. Not that this 30-year reunion/sequel movie is bad, it’s just unnecessary.
Screenwriters Kenya Barris (Girls Trip), Barry W. Blaustein & David Sheffield (both Murphy’s The Nutty Professor movies) have, more or less, written a tired retread of the first movie with a few jokes here and there that manage a chuckle or two. The story is boring and clichéd, using the old ‘secret bastard son’ trope. But to his credit, Fowler has a likable charm to carry his character through the movie, while it’s certainly nice to see all the old faces again, especially if you were a big fan of the first movie, like me. Hall & Murphy are fine as the royals, but are simply amazing as the other crazy personas they portray. Ya gotta applaud their talents for that!
Craig Brewer, who directed Murphy to such great success in his last movie, Dolemite Is Still My Name, is back at the helm again, but can’t raise this movie into the comedy stratosphere like John Landis did back in 1988. Brewer, who does mostly dramas like Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan tries to capture the magic again, but it’s clearly not there, despite all the many, many callback lines, scenes, and repeated trips down nostalgia lane, which can get tiresome. Y’know, Mirembe, you were right. Some sequels shouldn’t be done!
**Streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime
King Ralph (1991)
I guess someone thought, “Hey, y’know, John Goodman is SO funny on Roseanne, we should really give him the lead in a movie!” After all, by 1991, Goodman had already been in 18 feature films, but in minor or ensemble roles. Maybe it was time for him to have his own movie, right? Well, okay, but this wasn’t it.
It’s a glorious day for a fun family wedding photo. Picture this: the entire British royal family standing around getting their photo taken when a freak accident electrocutes and wipes out the entire Royal family tree. Um. . .funny? British advisor, Sir Cedric Willingham (Peter O’Toole) starts a search for any surviving heirs and, after a few days, finds a living heir in America named Ralph Jones (Goodman). Jones is big, loud, pompous, just been fired from his job as a lounge singer in Vegas, and takes this news as a shocker. No duh!
Ralph is flown to London where Cedric gives him a crash course on royal etiquette (you can imagine how THAT goes!). Meanwhile, newly appointed King Ralph goes to a strip club and meets Miranda Greene (Camille Coduri), an out-of-luck exotic dancer and aspiring fashion designer. Naturally, the British tabloids eat this tasty bit of news up like a dog. Over in the palace, Lord Percival Graves (John Hurt) is opposed to having an American on the throne, but Prime Minister Geoffrey Hale (James Villiers) states that Ralph’s kingship is legit. . . unless he commits a grievous error. With this in mind, Graves bribes Miranda to stir up controversy by having a relationship with Ralph. But Miranda, being that “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold”, gives back the cash and breaks up with Ralph.
Ralph continues to be a bumbling, stumbling numbskull with a crown, even though the British people love him. He’s even set-up to marry Princess Anna of Finland (Joely Richardson), but that doesn’t work out. With all the duties and responsibilities of what a King has to do, Ralph is growing increasingly nervous about his “job”. He finally apologizes to Parliament for his actions, then accidentally finds a hidden secret: Cedric is the REAL heir to the throne, but didn’t tell anyone. Ralph abdicates, Cedric accepts his rightful crown, Miranda comes back to Ralph, and everyone lives happily ever after. Blah-blah-blah.
How did this cookie-cutter film do at the box office? As you might have expected, it crashed & burned with all the might of a tornado hitting an oil refinery next to a fireworks warehouse. This was a crapshoot, to be sure since the writer/director was David S. Ward, who had written (or co-written) such terrific movies like The Sting, Sleepless in Seattle, and Major League. But then again, he also gave us dumpster-fires like The Sting II, Major League II, and Down Periscope. This movie was not one of his best, not by a long-shot. The plot & story was dumb and not even the least bit funny, although the idea must have seemed good on paper.