Monday, March 16, 2015

Movies I Grew Up With: Coming to America

If you've come around here a time of two, you might know that every Thursday I take part in a meme hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. This past week, the theme was live-action fairy tale adaptations. My last post in the Proof of a Movie God series chronicled the interesting path taken to the big screen by the film Beverly Hills Cop. A couple days ago, news broke that Eddie Murphy is in talks to play the dad of his own boyhood idol, Richard Pryor. I could not ignore all these signs any longer. I just had to write about my absolute favorite live-action fairy tale. Thank you, Movie God.

When Coming to America came to theaters in 1988, Eddie Murphy was the funniest man in the world. During his stint on "Saturday Night Live" was the only time in my life I made it a point to watch the show every week. I listened to his debut, self-titled comedy album at least fifty times. I watched his HBO stand-up special, the classic Delirious at least that many times and listened to the album of the same routine enough times to memorize the whole thing. For a while, 48 Hrs was my absolute favorite movie. Then it was Trading Places. Then it was his next movie, Beverly Hills Cop. I even loved The Golden Child and I still love Beverly Hills Cop II. Damn you. Then, there was another classic stand-up, Eddie Murphy: Raw. I'll never forget a certain moment of that movie, which we'll get to in just a bit. And yes, I've fully convinced myself that Best Defense never happened. Anyhoo, by '88 I was a seventeen year old Eddie Murphy disciple. I had no choice but to see Coming to America as soon as it came out.

My best friend and I, with our younger brothers in tow journeyed by bus to the theater to purchase the tickets. We felt like big men because this was one of the first R-rated movies that we could legally purchase tickets for. Honestly, this was rather anti-climactic. After all, we'd been finding theaters that didn't bother asking how old we were and had been buying tickets to such movies since we were thirteen. Besides, he had a rather thick mustache by this point so no one working the box office even gave us a second look. Well, we knew and that's all that mattered.

Honestly, before settling in our seats that evening we had a basic idea of the plot, but not much else. All we knew for sure was that it was an Eddie Murphy movie so we had to be there. It really didn't matter that we had to drag our much younger brothers along. We didn't have dates that night, anyway. For the uninformed among you, the plot follows Eddie as Prince Akeem, ruler to the throne in the fictional African nation of Zumunda. He's just turned twenty-one is about to be married to a woman he's never met through an arranged marriage. She's been groomed from birth to do nothing but be his wife. However, Akeem wants a woman who has more to offer than being beautifully and acting upon his every whim. In his own words, "I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins." Words to live by. Where could a man find such a woman? In America, of course. But, where in America? He will one day be king so it's only logical that he journey to Queens. At this point, my buddy and looked at each other as did most people in the theater. We were from Queens. Many of the exterior shots in the movie were immediately recognizable to us. I won't say too much about this since I already wrote about it in the My Hometown Blogathon. Akeem packs up the royal bags and his bestest buddie Semmie, played by his real life BFF Arsenio Hall, and showed up in our neck of the woods. To make sure the woman he gets is not some mindless gold-digger, they pretend to be poor and move into the crummiest apartment imaginable.

"Damn shame what they did to that dog."
Akeem's quest for a worthy mate leads him to meet lots of colorful characters. A large part of the genius of CtA is that many of these people were actually played by Eddie and Arsenio. Each handled four roles. In a most impressive display each character felt like a completely different person with unique mannerisms and speech patterns. It was the first time either had done such a thing and was amazing to watch. In Murphy's case, I was completely fooled by one of his characters and had no idea it was him until the end credits informed me of this fact. This character is Saul, an old Jewish guy that hangs out at the barber shop in the neighborhood where Akeem and Semmie have taken up residence. There is no possible way I could've guessed that this was Eddie Murphy. Even after having seen it umpteen times, I still have trouble wrapping my head around what he accomplishes with this character. His other characters include Clarence who runs the barbershop and the not-so-good singing Randy Watson. He's "a young man you all know as Joe the Policeman from the 'What's Going Down' episode of 'That's My Mama.'" He's the front-man of the band Sexual Chocolate. He's a character only in the movie for one scene. However, he leaves an indelible mark on the proceedings. He gives an incredibly rotten rendition of "The Greatest Love of All," drops the mic, stomps his foot, and shouts "Sexual Chocolate!" all while the audience politely cringes. It's an amazing moment that lives on off the screen. I can't tell how many times I've been around someone who purposely does something ridiculous and then says "Sexual Chocolate!" Murphy gives a virtuoso set of performances. I will go to my grave saying that his work in the movie is among the best of all time.

Not to be outdone, Arsenio Hall is similarly outstanding in his group of roles. He brings a perfectly dissatisfied attitude to Semmie and a wonderful, constantly eating barber in the barbershop. In the famous nightclub scene, he plays a rather kinky woman who purposely looks exactly like him. His lack of makeup for this character works marvelously. His most memorable character, though, is Reverend Brown, a fire and brimstone preacher who delivers every word as if it's part of a sermon. To this day, whenever I hear a clergyman just going bananas on the goodness of the Lord, I keep waiting for him to launch into what Reverend Brown gives us when he says of God, "He helped Joshua fight the battle of Jericho, he helped Daniel get out the lion's den, he helped GILLIGAN get off the island." The emphasis and sing-songy way he says Gilligan is just hilarious. Arsenio deserves so much more credit for what he does in this movie. He and Murphy both catch lightning in a bottle.

The movie is notable for a number of other things, too. Most prominently, a guy in a two bit part has gone on to become the highest-grossing actor of all-time. By this time, he was an unknown who had done a bit of TV. His biggest part to this point was a short, but memorable scene in Spike Lee's School Daze. He also has just one scene, here. He's robbing the fast food joint where Akeem and Semmie work. He's thwarted by the two heroes and disappears from the movie. It's none other than Samuel L. Jackson. It's also the most most memorable role played by the underrated Eriq LaSalle as our villain, of sorts. The eternally dignified and exquisitely voiced James Earl Jones plays Akeem's dad King Jaffe Joffer. Madge Sinclair is perfectly cast as his elegant wife Queen Aoleon. Comedian Louie Anderson is perfectly pathetic as Maurice, one of Akeem and Semmie's co-workers. You simultaneously laugh at and feel sorry for the guy when he says "Hey, I started out mopping the floor just like you guys. But now... now I'm washing lettuce. Soon I'll be on fries; then the grill. In a year or two, I'll make assistant manager, and that's when the big bucks start rolling in." Cuba Gooding Jr. makes his big-screen debut as "Boy Getting Haircut." The way he sits in the chair and grins for a few seconds is Oscar-level stuff. It's also the debut on any type of screen for a young lady named Midori. This, boys and girls, is huge. What do you mean you don't know who Midori is? For starters, she's the sister of 80s pop/R&B superstar Jody Watley. However, she would soon step out of her famous sibling's shadow and go on to a"acting" career. Just a few years later, she would show up in Anal Lovebuds and go on to star in such classics as Gang Bang Dollies, Lady Sterling Takes It In the Arse, Black Snatch Fever, and Superball XXX: Ebony Cheerleader Orgy. And those are some of the more family friendly titles.

Let's move on.

If you couldn't guess, CtA is also notable for how quotable it is. Notable quotable. Hey, I made a rhyme! Ahem...moving on. Many of the quotes I've used in this post have come right off the top of my head. A lot of them, including "Sexual Chocolate!," I've used in real life. Occasionally, I get laughs from other fans. Sometimes, I'll get puzzled looks, but it doesn't matter because I provide my own laughter. To this day, whenever someone I know comes near me wearing something extravagant I can't resist the urge to rub the material it's made of, use my best Saul voice and say "This is beautiful. What is this, velvet?" In other words, this movie has become embedded in every fiber of my being. It's simply part of who I am. When I met the woman who would be my wife, one of the things we bonded over was our love for this movie. I tease her all the time for having led a sheltered childhood. We're only two years apart in age, but there are so many extremely well known movies from our era she's never seen. So it's sort of amazing that she has seen this. Since getting together we've watched it together at least a dozen times and separately probably another dozen times. Many of these viewings included our children. It is easily one of our household's favorite movies. I know, it's an R-rated movie with some nudity, lots of cussing, and the opening sequence includes one of Akeem's bathers, yes bathers, informing our hero that "the royal penis is clean, Your Highness." Bad parents. But, dammit, it's a fairy tale. And a great one.

My Rawest Moment with Eddie Murphy

I could just as easily have done this post on Eddie Murphy: Raw. There are a few comedic performance films that stand out to me and this is right at the top of the list. It actually came out the year before Coming to America, when I was sixteen. I laughed from start to finish, but I still left the theater feeling rather uncomfortable thanks to one unforgettable moment. During one of his many rants, Murphy says "Imagine your best friend fucking your girl." It just so happens that I was sitting right in between my best friend and my girl. I've never quite forgiven Eddie for this.

Other Movies I Grew Up With:


  1. What else is there to say about this film....

    Oha, it is my 21st birthday. Don't you think just for once, I may use the bathroom by myself?

    Quite amusing your highness, wipers!!!!


    You dumb-fuck!

    Take us to Queens at once!

    Are you sure you want to Queens? A couple of rich fellas should stay at the Waldorf, the Palace...

    The Palace sounds nice, take us there.

    No, I want Queens only and we're not rich. We're ordinary African students.

    Whatever you say. Say, what part of Queens do you want to go to?

    Take us to the most common part!

    That's easy, if there's something Queens has... common parts.

    What does dumb-fuck mean?

    Is this shitty enough for you?


    I've got a secret... I worship the Devil!

    See, that's the problem. I can't find a man that can satisfy me. Some go for an hour, two. A man has to work overtime for me honey!

    I'm not interested in a man unless he drives a BMW.

    Yeah baby, I'm almost single. My husband's on death row.

    This is the first date we've been on... since the doctor separated us.

    I'm into the group thing.

    I was once Joan of Arc in my former life...

    My name is Peaches and I'm the best. All the DJs want to feel my breasts... hic-up, hic-up, hic-up,

    What I want to be is a singer. A pop singer. A rock singer. And then go into movies where I want to be in the movies. Write the movies. Direct them. People tell me how talented I am....

    I hope you don't mind me telling you but I've been watching you from afar and I want to tear you apart. And yo friend too!

    Is it my imagination or does every woman in Queens have some severe psychological problem?

    1. Hahahahahahahahahaha! Most awesome comment ever!!!

  2. I can't top the comment by thevoid/Steven above, so I'm not going to try :)
    I will say I love Coming to America. I'm not surprised you've enjoyed it so many times, I agree it holds up well to multiple viewings(think I've seen it 3-4x). There are so many memorable scenes in the film. Eddie Murphy was definitely a big deal in the 80s

    1. He was a very big deal in the 80s and this is absolutely one of favorites from that decade. Glad to see others love it, as well.

  3. I love this movie so much! SO MUCH! Murphy is HILARIOUS, but I love that you mention Hall in the same breath, because they work so many wonders together here. Such a dynamic comedic duo! Great review.

    1. Thanks. Hall really is great in this. Glad to see that you're a fan.

      Fyi, I read your post on the movies of your life. Just haven't had a chance to sit and type the kind of reply it deserves. I'll do that later tonight.

  4. I really enjoyed this one, been ages since I saw it though so might be time for a rewatch! Murphy is so effortlessly hilarious, if the material is right it's pure comedic gold.

    1. Definitely time for a rewatch! Too bad Murphy hasn't had the right material in a few years.