Film Review: Coming to America (1988)

Also known as: The Quest (working title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1988 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Eddie Murphy
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell, Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Sheila Jackson, Jake Steinfeld, Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Don Ameche (cameo), Ralph Bellamy (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Do not alert him to my presence. I shall deal with him myself.” – King Jaffe Joffer

I’ve reviewed a lot of films lately that I know inside and out but hadn’t seen in their entirety in well over a decade. This is one of those films and after rewatching it, I realized how much I missed the good feelings that this generates, as well as how infectious Prince Akeem’s optimism is. This is really something that I hope is not lost in the sequel, which comes out in a few months.

At it’s core, this is a modern fairytale romance. While it doesn’t feature magic and mythic creatures, it does feature a great quest that sees its protagonist travel to a strange, foreign land in an effort to find treasure.

This treasure is his true love and in seeking her out, he defies his father, the King of Zamunda, as well as centuries of tradition. But in the end, love conquers all and this film conveys that message so splendidly that I feel like it’s impossible not to adore this motion picture.

Eddie Murphy is at his absolute best in this classic but his performance is maximized by Arsenio Hall, his real life best friend and a guy that plays off of him so perfectly well that it feels like they’ve been a comedy team for years when this is actually, their first movie together.

Beyond the two leads, this film is perfectly cast from top-to-bottom. It’s frankly an all-star cast that features a lot of the top black talent of the time, as well as Louie Anderson in what’s still his most memorable role.

I love the scenes with Murphy and John Amos, as well as the ones with his storyline father, James Earl Jones. Murphy holds his own alongside these legends and this is the one film where he really proves that he is the prime time talent that most assumed he was.

Also, this is the first picture where Murphy, as well as Hall, play multiple characters. This worked so well that it would go on to be a trope in several Eddie Murphy movies in the ’90s and beyond. I can only assume that many of these extra characters will also make their returns in the upcoming sequel. I hope we see the old guys from the barber shop again, even though it’d be shocking if they were still alive 33 years later.

The most important thing that needed to work in this film was the relationship that develops between Akeem and Lisa. It’s a great, simple love story and the two had dynamite chemistry and the emotion of their best scenes shined through, making this a much better picture than it really needed to be.

One thing that really jumps out, that I didn’t notice or appreciate until now, is the music. Nile Rodgers orchestrated an incredible score full of memorable pieces that make certain scenes and sequences, magical. In fact, his King Jaffe Joffer theme is so damn good it’s iconic in my book.

All in all, this is a film where everything went right and I feel as if it exceeded the expectations that even its producers had. John Landis was truly a master of ’80s comedy and this is one great example of how good of a comedic director he was.

As much as I have always loved this movie, I don’t think that I ever had the appreciation that I have for it now. It’s a pretty close to perfect romantic comedy, which is a genre I’m not a massive fan of. But when you make one so great, the genre doesn’t matter and the end result is something that far exceeds the label of “chick flick”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as Eddie Murphy’s ’80s and early ’90s films.

Film Review: Ratboy (1986)

Release Date: October 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sondra Locke
Written by: Rob Thompson
Music by: Lennie Niehaus
Cast: Sondra Locke, Sharon Baird, Robert Townsend, Christopher Hewett, Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Gerrit Graham, Louie Anderson, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon, Gary Riley, Courtney Gains, M.C. Gainey, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 104 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer and checking out the critical consensus on this film, I thought that I might still enjoy it due to how weird it looked. But honestly, it was kind of hard to get through and the novelty of it wore off really quick. But hey, the French liked it.

This was Sondra Locke’s directorial debut and man, it was a complete misfire. So much so, that she never really bounced back from it and only had four total directing credits to her name, one of which was a television movie. She also got nominated for a Razzie for her performance in this, although she lost out to Madonna’s performance in Who’s That Girl?

I had read that this was made as a sort of allegory to her long relationship with Clint Eastwood, which was dissolving at the time. She saw herself as victimized and exploited and for whatever reason, this script spoke to her. I’m not entirely sure if she saw herself as the Ratboy character and Clint Eastwood as her character but this vapid Taylor Swift moment seems pretty petty and immature.

Locke also had Eastwood’s production company produce the film, so maybe that was her final “fuck you” to the guy.

Anyway, apart from Rick Baker’s solid effects used to create the Ratboy character, there is next to nothing about this film that is impressive. Hell, it even has a great cast with several talented character actors but they can’t come close to saving this, as it’s a complete dud from top-to-bottom. Granted, I do like Gerrit Graham in everything and I did enjoy him here, even if the film felt like a waste of his time.

This is just slow, drab, predictable and boring as fuck. There are a few amusing bits like the scene with John Witherspoon trying to hustle Ratboy but these moments are far and few between and it’s not worth sitting through the whole, dull picture to pull out the good bits. Besides, the clip is probably on YouTube.

I had hoped that there would be something worthwhile in this. Other than the few things I already mentioned, there isn’t.

The end.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: I honestly don’t know, as it’s so bizarre and unique.

Film Review: Bébé’s Kids (1992)

Also known as: Robin Harris’ Bébé’s Kids (video title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Based on: characters by Robin Harris
Music by: John Barnes
Cast: Robin Harris (archive footage), Faizon Love, Nell Carter, Myra J., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tone Lōc, Wayne Collins, Jonell Green, Marques Houston, John Witherspoon, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, Louie Anderson

Hyperion Studio, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I am pissed off to the highest level of pissivity.” – Robin Harris

I saw Bébé’s Kids in the theater when I was thirteen. I watched it again a few years later but I haven’t seen it since the ’90s. But being that I always loved Robin Harris’ comedy act and having rewatched the first House Party recently, I wanted to also go back and revisit this, which took Harris’ most famous reoccurring comedy bit and turned it into an animated film. It was also written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the first House Party, a film where he worked with Harris.

While this isn’t a classic and it doesn’t boast animation worth praising, it still works for me. I thought the bits were still funny and even though Robin Harris died before this was made, I thought Faizon Love did a stupendous job of providing the animated Robin with a voice that encapsulated his unique spirit and energy. This was also the first credit to Love’s name and for him to be able to do this so well, is pretty impressive.

A funny thing that caught me off guard is that I forgot that Tone Lōc did the voice of the baby, Peewee. Lōc really steals the show in every scene that he’s in. You also get some voice work by Nell Carter and John Witherspoon.

This is a fun, silly movie but it has a good heart. It’s message and it’s purpose are noble and it actually hits you in the feels, which you just don’t expect when spending the majority of this film watching these jerk kids destroy a theme park while making everyone’s life hell.

Bébé’s Kids probably won’t resonate with most people in 2018 but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe some of that is nostalgia or my love of Robin Harris but it still hits the right notes for me.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Reginald Hudlin’s House Party movies.