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
“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”.
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as Eddie Murphy’s ’80s and early ’90s films.