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Paramount Studios presents
Coming to America HD-DVD (1989)

"Father, it is not just that. It is everything. The cooking, the pampering, the dressing, the bathing. Actually, I rather enjoy the bathing."
- Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: June 01, 2007

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos
Other Stars: Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Frankie Faison, Louie Anderson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: John Landis

MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, language, sexual humor)
Run Time: 01h:56m:41s
Release Date: June 05, 2007
UPC: 097361246246
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B+B B+

DVD Review

In the wake of the hugely successful Beverly Hills Cop movies, Eddie Murphy was one of the most bankable stars in the late 1980s. As a result, when he came up with the concept of an African prince coming to America to find a bride, things came together as they almost certainly never would have with a lesser figure. Reuniting Murphy with director John Landis, from their hugely successful Trading Places, the resulting picture is an enduringly fun movie that holds up well due to its fairy tale milieu combined with contemporary urban life.

Prince Akeem (Murphy), heir to the throne of the African kingdom of Zamunda, is to be married in an arranged wedding on his twenty-first birthday. But when he suggests he would like to go abroad to sow some wild oats, Akeem finds his father (James Earl Jones) conspiratorially willing to agree. Traveling with assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem comes to America not for the erotic adventures the King expects, but to find his own bride. Determined to find love for himself rather than as a result of his position, Akeem takes a job working fast food, quickly falling for Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), daughter of the restaurant's owner (John Amos), who would prefer that she marry someone wealthy.

True to the fairy tale origins, Landis produces a quite spectacular Zamunda, aided by outrageous costuming and splendid production values all around. While there's a sense of Africa, it's a fantasy Africa that is way over the top in nearly every respect. That comes in sharp contrast with the grim and dirty New York, which is the setting for the lion's share of the picture. Transitioning between the two worlds, Murphy and Hall make wonderful fish out of water, especially entertaining in Akeem's obliviousness in comparison to Semmi's sharp cynicism. The result makes for plenty of genuine laughs that holds up well over the years (despite the occasional references to breakdancing and jheri curls). Much of the script feels improvisational, and everything moves along at a lively pace that makes the picture seem shorter than it really is.

Much of the entertainment value comes from impeccable casting of the supporting roles. James Earl Jones is a natural as royalty, while his give and take with Madge Sinclair as his queen provides plenty of humor of its own. They have a great chemistry together, as Sinclair is both regal and more than willing to puncture the king when he gets too pompous. Murphy doesn't quite have the same chemistry with Headley, who is stuck with a fairly thankless role that offers few possibilities. Murphy does have splendid chemistry with Hall, though, and they are more than comfortable riffing off one another. John Amos is marvelous as Lisa's slightly shady father, who is doing his best to rip off McDonald's with his McDowell's restaurant ("McDonald's has golden arches, McDowell's has golden arcs"). Simultaneously affectionate to his daughter and calculatingly grasping, Amos nails the part perfectly, taking it right up to the brink of parody. Louie Anderson has a memorable bit as a minimum wage slave, Samuel L. Jackson gets a brief sequence as a holdup man taken down by Akeem, and even Cuba Gooding Jr. gets a moment onscreen (though his single line got cut). Perhaps most amusingly, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprise their roles from Trading Places to good effect.

Coming to America really set Murphy on the road to playing multiple roles in a single movie. But unlike later efforts that have spiraled into freak show exhibitions of ever-increasing outrageousness, the characters here are well drawn, bringing a slice of reality to their portrayals even when they're limited in screen time. The highlights are the denizens of the barbershop below Akeem's apartment in Queens, featuring Murphy and Hall as barbers and Murphy practically unrecognizable as an aged Jewish man. Another standout is Hall's turn as a preacher modeled after Al Sharpton, using Black Awareness Week as a tool to rip off the neighborhood. That's one of the few references to race in a surprisingly color-blind movie. That has helped keep the picture fresh and positive over the decades, and kept the comedy at the forefront instead of fooling with a message.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Overall, the transfer is quite attractive, with vivid colors and deep black levels. The wide array of skin tones comes across well with the increased colorspace. The picture feels a little soft, as if it has been excessively filtered; it seems as if there's a bit of crispness lost in the process. However, detail is reasonably good, as are the textures on the costumes and sets. Many of these would be very difficult to render in SD, so the HD disc is definitely presents a step up. Grain structure is filmlike, without shimmer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanishyes
DS 2.0Frenchno
Dolby Digital
+
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A 5.1 DD+ English track is supported by stereo French and mono Spanish tracks. The English 5.1 is decent, if unremarkable for the most part. It's quite clean in any event. Nile Rodgers' score, which ranges from the classical to African drumming to urban sounds, benefits the most from the audio, which provides a solid range and a nice bass foundation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Even without a commentary, the supply of extra materials is quite generous, beginning with the making of documentary, Prince-ipal Photography (24m:34s), with an emphasis on the Cinderella origins of the story. Amusingly, several participants offer contradictory recollections of things, though Landis seems to be most reliable on the things that are readily verifiable at least. Fit for Akeem (18m:03s) takes a look at the costume designed of Deborah Nadoolman, combining traditional Africa with Vegas showpieces, with particular emphasis on the wild costumes for the dance sequence. Character Building (12m:54s) looks at the makeup wizardry of Rick Baker as he transformed Murphy into an old white man as well as many other characters. Nile Rodgers recollects his various changes of tone in the music from scene to scene in Composing America (11m:08s). A "vintage sit-down" with Murphy and Hall finds the two clearly unhappy to be doing promotional work for the movie, but they still manage to be pretty funny. A gallery includes an assortment of about 50 stills, while the theatrical trailer is the only extra that is provided in HD.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Few Eddie Murphy comedies have aged as gracefully as Coming to America, thanks to many great performances and its grounding in a fantasy world. The transfer is solid if not spectacular, and the special edition offers a wide array of solid extras.

 


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