Revisit the ’80s with an Eddie Murphy Double Feature

by Sharon Mineo

Cinapse Pick of the Week

Exactly what it sounds like, the Pick of the Week column is written up by the Cinapse team on rotation, focusing on films that are past the marketing cycle of either their theatrical release or their home video release. So maybe the pick of the week will be only a couple of years old. Or maybe it’ll be a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some new validation that others out there love what you love too! Engage with us in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook! And now, our Cinapse Pick Of The Week…

For my Pick of the Week, I’m revisiting a few old standbys. We all have them: that handful of films that we can’t help but stop and watch when we’re flipping listlessly through 9 million TV channels, the ones we revisit at least once a year when we’re bored, because they never get old can always be counted on to entertain. One of those films for me is Coming to America (1988). It’s so goofy and outlandish, you can’t help but love it.

Wise in matters of the heart but naïve in the ways of the world, Prince Akeem of Zamunda (Eddie Murphy) has reached his 21stbirthday, at which time tradition dictates he must enter into an arranged marriage with a woman he’s never met. Despite his betrothal to a woman who turns out to be gorgeous and trained to serve his every whim and desire, Akeem is a romantic at heart, and would rather marry for love. He convinces his father King Joffe (James Earl Jones) to let him and his friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) make a trip abroad before his wedding, ostensibly to “sow his royal oats” before settling down, but actually to attempt to find true love in America. Where else to find a consort fit for a future king than in 1980s Queens, New York?

Rich and pampered Akeem is determined to live his New York life as a regular person, and meet a woman who will love him for who he is, not for his title or his money. Posing as an exchange student, Akeem meets and falls for do-gooder Lisa (Shari Headley); hi-jinks ensue as Akeem and Semmi take jobs at Lisa’s father’s McDonald’s knock-off, McDowell’s, in order to be close to Lisa — who just happens to have a boyfriend, Soul-Glo heir Darryl Jenks (Eriq La Salle).

The great thing about Coming to America is that it takes its premise “seriously” without actually taking it seriously. The entire movie is a wink and a nod, a sly smile that says yes, we know how ridiculous this is, but we’re going to roll with it and it’s going to be a blast. From the overindulgence of Akeem’s palace life to the tropes of NYC life in the ’80s, no one and nothing is safe in terms of poking fun. We also get an early showcase of both Murphy and Hall playing multiple characters with makeup and prosthetics, which here is an interesting curiosity rather than an annoying main premise. James Earl Jones’ lecherous king is always a delight, music is used to great effect to enhance the comedy, and all the right people get their comeuppance in the end. It features an all-star cast, which also includes John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Paul Bates, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell, Louie Anderson, and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s even a cameo of some familiar faces from the second film in my double feature…

Trading Places (1983) is one of Murphy’s first movie roles, also featuring Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. Aykroyd stars as Louis Winthorpe III, a silver-spooned manager at the prestigious Duke Brothers commodities brokerage in Philadelphia. After a chance encounter between Winthorpe and street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) results in the latter’s arrest, both men’s lives become affected by the machinations of the Duke brothers. In an effort to settle an argument in their ongoing debate on the effects of nature vs. nurture, the Duke brothers make a bet and set out to ruin Winthorpe’s life and put Valentine in his place — mansion, job, and all. Eventually both men figure out what’s going on and join forces, with the help of prostitute Ophelia (Curtis), to turn the tables and hit the Dukes where it hurts — on the commodities market.

Trading Places is yet another embarrassment of riches in terms of casting, with support from Denholm Elliott, Paul Gleason, Jim Belushi, Frank Oz, Bo Diddley, and Al Franken — not to mention screen legends Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche as the nefarious Duke brothers. It too is a fun romp through Winthorpe’s descent and Valentine’s rise in fortune, and a zany route to comeuppance for the villains. Murphy and Aykroyd are young and in their prime, and that’s something worth seeing. You can even forgive it the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trope, because Curtis is a goddess who can be forgiven for anything.

All in all, you can go wrong with this Eddie Murphy comedy double feature — it’s dark and cold outside, so pull up a recliner and a hot beverage and settle in for some ’80s absurd comedy gold.

Previous post Despite a Notable Reunion, BLUE CITY Leaves Audiences Feeling Just That
Next post Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do, BAD BOYS 1 & 2, Blu-ray Review