DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Coming To America

JustinCleveland

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Coming to America
Directed by John Landis

Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 1988
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 116 minutes
Rating: R
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English 2.0 Surround, French 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English/Spanish/Portuguese
MSRP: $14.99

Release Date: June 5, 2007
Review Date: June 1, 2007

“Coming to America” is a feather in the cap of actor Eddie Murphy; a film on whose reputation he has been coasting for two decades. Filled with memorable lines and characters, “Coming to America” is a great comedy that has a nice moral message and heart to boot.

Eddie Murphy stars as African prince Akeem, a man who has had his every need attended to for his entire life. He has never known want, and on his twenty first birthday, is introduced to the woman who will become his wife. The problem is that Akeem does not love his bride, and instead wants to be given the chance to find a woman who will love him for the content of his character, not the contents of his bank account. Resultantly he travels, incognito, to America in search of his ideal woman, adopting the persona of a poor student and taking a job moping the floors of a blatant McDonald’s rip-off. Accompanied by his spoiled assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem has just a few days to find love before he is forced to return to his homeland and wed.

A celebration of contemporary African-American culture, both its positives (cultural pride) and its negatives (Soul Glo), strong women, and forthright men, “Coming to America” is a funny, fun movie. It is, however, the movie that featured Eddie Murphy (and Arsenio Hall) in a variety of roles, made-up to be nigh unrecognizable, setting a precedent for future producers to say, “It worked in ‘Coming to America.’” Arguable the best scene in the movie features the two stars made-up as barbers (and their cantankerous Jewish patron) discussing the merits of the boxers of yesteryear. Much like many of the best moments in the film, it has nothing to do with the primary story but it is darn funny.

A film that can easily be described in classic film terms as a “pot-boiler,” or a film where the outcome is inevitable but the fun is in the journey to forestall it, “Coming to America” by-and-large works. The relationship that develops between Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley) and Akeem is touching, his attempts to court her endearing. Eriq La Salle is suitably dubious as Lisa’s boyfriend (and unbeknownst fiancée), while John Amos adds some fun as Lisa’s oblivious, single-minded father.

“Coming to America” is a loose amalgamation of generally unrelated scenes, and reads more like a sketch comedy show with a running theme than a feature-length motion picture. Fortunately the strong, affable performances overcome the narrative limitations leaving an interesting and downright funny movie.

Video:
Replacing the original non-Anamorphic DVD released in 1999, this set’s primary feature is a transfer enhanced for widescreens. As with “Trading Places,” this new transfer looks very good, which is unsurprising as it was mastered from the same elements that are being put on the HD-DVD being released the same day. There are a few minor specs and white blemishes, but they are rare and fleeting. No major print damage is evident, I did not notice any ringing or edge enhancement, and the colors were strong and bright, producing a pleasant viewing experience.

Audio:
Both audio tracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo) are serviceable, though the dialogue-heavy nature of the film does not allow much use of the rears or LFE channels. Dialogue is clear and understandable, the few music cues are well-incorporated (Sexual Chocolate is as atrocious as they can be).

Extras:
For a single-disc set, this disc has a goodly amount of special features, though most of them are retrospective with little behind-the-scenes footage. Director John Landis and several of the other parties involved in the creation of the film lend their voices and memories to the 25-minute documentary “Prince-ipal photography: The Coming Together of America.” Eddie Murphy participates through edited-in clips that were culled from interviews, likely in promotion of other films as he does not seem to ever wax nostalgic.

“Fit for Akeem” is a brief piece about the costumes in the film. As Landis says, this film is a fairytale, and the costumes are intrinsic to the success of the setting. Costume designer Deborah Noodlman talks about her creative process and how she brought to life an African aristocracy.

Likewise makeup-man extraordinaire Rick Baker shows off his process of making Eddie Murphy into an old Jew. I’m torn, because his success in creating a new persona here emboldened the producers of films like “The Nutty Professor” and “Norbit,” however the process described is fascinating.

A segment entitled “Composing America” follows the work of musician Niles Rogers, producer and composer, and his process of creating the score for “Coming to America.”

Eddie and Arsenio sit down for five minutes to talk about the film, footage taken in 1988 and not seen since. While the two are affable, it is hardly an illuminating piece. It is immediately obvious why Arsenio went on to host a television show and Eddie went on to hide behind makeup.

The film’s theatrical trailer is reproduced here, along with previews for other Paramount products including “Norbit,” “Dreamgirls,” and various others.

Overall:
“Coming to America” is a very funny film that has aged well. The themes of love, truth and respect are timeless, and the movie manages to present them without becoming preachy. Good gags, memorable dialogue and affable protagonists, mixed with a wonderful DVD presentation makes this set an easy recommendation.
 

Aaron Silverman

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Nice review, Justin -- except for the part where you lump The Nutty Professor in with Norbit. What were you thinking?!?!?!
 

David*P

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I'm just wondering if Paula Abdul is shown doing choreography in the "making of" featurette?
 

JustinCleveland

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I did not see her, but I may not have been paying close enough attention.

And The Nutty Professor was terrible. The sequel cost me brain cells.
 

Aaron Silverman

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Eddie Murphy should've won the Oscar for Best Actor for The Nutty Professor. He wuz robbed. ROBBED!
 

David*P

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Thanks for answering Justin...I guess I'll just have to rent it and see for meself
 

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