The Daily Stream: Coming To America Still A Perfect Star Vehicle For One Of Our Most Talented Comedic Minds

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Coming To America" (1988)

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: If it's been a while, you might want to book a return trip to Zamunda and visit Prince Akeem and Semmi. "Coming to America" is Eddie Murphy taking his already fast-tracked career and hitting the turbo booster. Funny, foul, and warm-hearted all at the same time, the story and characters have aged well, even if some of the team behind the movie have not.

Why it's essential viewing

It's hard to explain 1980s Eddie Murphy to people who weren't there. Long before he became the family-friendly face of comedy he was a blisteringly funny envelope-pusher in much the same way that Richard Pryor and George Carlin were before him. He had a willingness to offend that the world needed at that particular moment. Yuppyism was taking over, the "Greed is Good" era was in full swing, and America needed a loud, honest and angry voice like Eddie Murphy's.

It goes without saying that Murphy is a brilliant stand up comedian. Like, one of the best to have ever done it, God tier level. It also goes without saying that a lot of his bits have aged pretty badly. If he made half the jokes today that he made during his standup reign... well, the social media uproar alone would make grown adults cry.

But it's impossible to talk about "Coming to America" without pointing out that it is a star vehicle for one of the funniest people to ever grace the stage or screen while his powers were at their peak. While Murphy has been outstanding in the years since, "Coming to America" is really the high water mark for him, at least in my humble opinion, and set the stage for one of his most wide-ranging, audience-pleasing hits.

It's funny, yes, but it's really a love story

If it's been a minute and you need a refresher, "Coming to America" is the story of a handsome African prince named Akeem who is discontent with his privileged and pampered life. It's time for him to marry and he just wants a bride who loves him for who he is, so he takes off to the one place where a future king can for sure find his bride: Queens.

Akeem hides his wealth, fame and political importance, taking a low level job at a fast food joint and begins his search for a bride to be.

So, you have a typical fish-out-of-water story, but with Eddie Murphy's very special brand of vulgar sincerity. Akeem himself is not a vulgar man, yet he spouts more F-bombs than any random 5-minute stretch of a Tarantino movie, all in an attempt to fit in with this new culture.

He's joined on his quest by his best friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), possibly the only Zamundaian who will break Prince Akeem's balls, and together they weather the culture shock of the dating scene in 1980s New York City.

"Coming to America" wasn't the first time Eddie Murphy put on mountains of makeup to transform into different characters, but it was the first time he did so to play multiple characters in one movie — something that would become a staple of his '90s output, particularly in the "Nutty Professor" movies.

Rick Baker's Oscar-nominated makeup is still impressive

Murphy and Hall play eight total characters in this thing and the makeup is ridiculously well done. That's the Rick Baker special! They got the guy who turned Michael Jackson into a zombie and David Naughton into a werewolf to come in and transform both Hall and Murphy into characters of different ages and even ethnicities.

Eddie Murphy in particular gets lost in his various makeup jobs. Sometimes with Hall it felt like there was only so much Baker could do, but Murphy is unrecognizable in his alternate characters — particularly Saul, the old Jewish guy at the barbershop. I've seen this movie two dozen times and I still have trouble seeing Eddie Murphy beneath that makeup.

At the center of "Coming to America" is a love story as Akeem finds his ideal partner in Shari Headley's Lisa McDowell, who is a no-B.S. independent woman, a far cry from the brides offered up to him in Zamunda.

The movie needs this romance to work or the whole premise falls apart, and it's a testament to Headley and Murphy's chemistry that it's able to ground an absurd comedy enough to really invest you in the emotional stakes of the budding relationship between these two characters; a relationship built on a lie, by the way. Usually it's a poor guy pretending to be rich to woo the pretty girl, not the other way around, but it's still a dishonest foundation and one the characters have to realistically grapple with before everything's said and done.

Even the smaller parts stand out

"Coming to America" works on every level. The comedy is still funny, the romance is still sweet and authentic, and every single actor, big or small, totally brings it. Including, I might add, the great Samuel L. Jackson, who shows up for one scene as an armed gunman attempting to rob the fast food place Akeem works at. Everything you love about Sam Jackson was already there way back in 1988.

This also might be my favorite flesh and blood role from James Earl Jones, playing King Jaffe Joffer, Akeem's stern father. This guy sitting in a standard middle class American living room while John Amos is trying to smooth talk him and barely putting up with the whole thing still makes me smile when I think back on it.

There's lots to thoughtfully dissect in the background, between Murphy's outrageous homophobic standup sets and director John Landis's place in Hollywood post-"The Twilight Zone: The Movie," but thankfully 'Coming to America' itself has aged very well.

It remains a living document showcasing one of our best comedic talents at the height of his powers in an effortless and highly entertaining way. If it's been a minute, you could do worse than to spend some quality time with this one.