Salty Air

Play It Again, Tim — Murphy sequel so-so; ‘Paris, Texas’ sublime

Tim Miller
Tim Miller
Written by Tim Miller

The baby’s crying in the crib and can’t get to sleep.

You could try a pacifier, of course.

Or you could have the baby watch the latest Eddie Murphy vehicle,  “Coming 2 America”  (PG-13, 110 minutes, watched on Prime Video).

Eddie Murphy, left, and Wesley Snipes appear in “Coming 2 America.” Amazon Studios)

“Coming 2 America” is the sequel to “Coming to America,” a mildly entertaining comedy which came out (gulp!) 33 years ago. The world hasn’t exactly been hyperventilating these past three decades in anticipation of a follow-up, and “Coming 2 America” provides a good reason why.

Words like “unfunny” and “lame” come to mind. “Crude,” too, so maybe exposing the baby to it might not be such a good idea, after all. “Coming 2 America” (even the title is uninspired) isn’t a terrible movie like, oh, Murphy’s “Norbit” — precious few films are. It’s just disposable.

In the first film, Murphy played Akeem Joffer, prince of the (fictional) African country Zamunda, who refuses to accept an arranged marriage and instead goes to America in search of a wife. He finds one.



In this film, Akeem’s father, the king (James Earl Jones), is on his deathbed. With three daughters and about to become king, Akeem learns he has an illegitimate son (Jermaine Fowler) in Queens, New York, and sets out to find him to groom him as his heir.

Meanwhile, the dictator (Wesley Snipes) of a rival country is pressuring Akeem to agree to involve one of his kids in an arranged marriage (oh, the irony).

Despite all of the palace and romantic intrigue, the story comes across as flimsy at best, with several party/ceremony scenes (featuring lots of musical acts, including Glady Knight, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa) thrown in as filler.

The film’s idea of the height of hilarity is having a lion pass gas.

Also in the cast: Arsenio Hall (returning as Akeem’s sidekick, Semmi), Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan. ** (out of four)

(It’s anecdote time! I was on the set of “Coming to America.” Harold Russell, who won two Oscars for his beautiful performance in the 1946 drama “The Best Years of Our Lives,” was living on Cape Cod when he was invited to attend the 1988 Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles. I flew out there with Harold and his wife so I could cover his appearance, and, during our stay, we went on the set of the Bill Murray comedy “Scrooged” to visit the film’s director, Harold’s friend Richard Donner. Donner then arranged for us to visit the set of “Coming to America,” which we did, and though we didn’t see Murphy that day, I did open a door and practically walked into James Earl Jones, in costume as the king. Oops.)

Meanwhile …

I’ve revisited quite a few great — or very good — films in the past week or so, including:

Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in an extraordinary scene from “Paris, Texas.” (20th Century Studios)

“Paris, Texas”  (1984, R, 145 minutes, watched on TCM). Harry Dean Stanton makes the most of the role of a lifetime in this devastating drama from German auteur Wim Wenders, working with a script by Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson. We first see Stanton’s Travis Henderson, with a vacant stare and wearing a suit and baseball hat, walking — practically marching — alone through the West Texas desert.  Despite his quick pace, it appears he’s on his way to nowhere. We later learn he’s a man who has lost everything, largely, it seems, through his own doing, and we watch as he gradually comes to grips with his past and tries to salvage what he can from it. Two scenes in which he encounters his estranged wife, played by Nastassja Kinski, are among the most powerful and heartbreaking I have ever seen. Typical of Wenders, this is a slow-moving film, but so, so rewarding. ****

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”  (2007, R, 160 minutes, watched on Showtime). The Jesse James story has been told many times before, but, for my money, writer-director Andrew Dominik’s moody interpretation, based on a novel by Ron Hansen, towers above all. Roger Deakins (“1917”) deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for his atmospheric cinematography. And the first-rate cast is flat-out remarkable: Brad Pitt as a sociopathic Jesse; Casey Affleck, who plays the ambitious Robert Ford with such deliberateness you wonder if Ford’s mentally impaired; Sam Shepard, whose gruff Frank James suffers no fools gladly; Paul Schneider and Jeremy Renner, as other colorful members of the James gang. Best of all is Sam Rockwell, who’s remarkable as Bob Ford’s brother, Charley, who survives Jesse and other dangers by playing dumb when he’s a lot smarter — and sensitive — than anyone would suspect. Watch Rockwell closely; it’s an amazingly nuanced performance. ****



“The Missouri Breaks”  (1976, PG, 126 minutes, watched on TCM). Another Western. This one, starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, and directed by Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Little Big Man”), was considered a flop when it came out — perhaps because of too high expectations, given the director and cast, or maybe because of Brando’s bizarre performance. I’ve always enjoyed the film. Brando plays a sadistic, cross-dressing “regulator” — a hired gun — brought in by a rancher to get rid of a gang of horse thieves. Nicholson is one of his targets; among the others are Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest and Randy Quaid. Kathleen Lloyd plays Nicholson’s love interest, the rancher’s daughter, and she transcends what could have been a thankless role with her layered, intelligent performance. ***½

“Darling”  (1965, not rated, 128 minutes, watched on the Criterion Channel). Julie Christie won the best-actress Oscar for her work as a beautiful young model who climbs the social ladder through her romantic liaisons in Swingin’ Sixties London. Directed by John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”), the drama, among other things, is an indictment of the society’s shallow values and the moral corruption of the rich and famous. Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey play two of Christie’s lovers. ***½

Also-rans

These were all first-time viewings for me:

“The Neon Demon”  (2016, R, 117 minutes, watched on Amazon Prime). Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s credits include riveting crime dramas “Bronson” (with Tom Hardy) and “Drive” (with Ryan Gosling). With “The Neon Demon,” he turns his attention to the fashion industry, and the results are suspenseful, horrific and repulsive. Sixteen-year-old Jessie (Elle Fanning) comes to Los Angeles with hopes of finding fame and fortune as a model. But will the denizens of the city devour her and then spit her out? You might not want to find out. **

“The Ruling Class”  (1972, PG, 154 minutes, watched on the Criterion Channel). Director Peter Medak’s satire on the British ruling class is considered a cult classic, but I find it silly, heavy-handed and off-putting. Peter O’Toole plays the institutionalized son of a member of the House of Lords. When the father (Harry Andrews) dies, the son inherits the father’s estate and returns home. The problem is, the son thinks he’s Jesus Christ. Well, that won’t do! Song and dance — and murder — ensue. **

“The Ghost of Peter Sellers”  (2018, not rated, 93 minutes, watched on the Criterion Channel). Director Medak of “The Ruling Class” once tried to make a pirate comedy starring Peter Sellers, considered a comic genius, with disastrous results. In this documentary, Medak relives the experience some 43 years later. While Sellers and his impossible behavior are ever-present in the story, the documentary is also about a man — Medak, himself — still wrestling with a frustrating failure from many decades ago. **½

“The Secret 6”  (1931, not rated, 83 minutes, watched on TCM). Released right around the time that the classic gangster films “Public Enemy,” “Little Caesar” and“Scarface” came out, “The Secret 6” isn’t in the same league, but the cast still makes it fun. Wallace Beery stars as brutish bootlegger Slaughterhouse Scorpio, with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Ralph Bellamy and Lewis Stone in support. As a newspaper reporter, Gable shows the charisma that would soon make him the king of Hollywood. ***

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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org. Archived recordings of the shows can be found at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/. He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. 

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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