Prince Akeem: I want a woman who will arouse my intellect as well as my loins! Semmi: ...but where will you find such a woman? Prince Akeem: In America!
1988 comedy starring the underrated comedic duo of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall (before his show).Heir to the throne of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer spends his days being pampered and spoiled by all those who serve him; he is not even allowed to dress himself or tie his own shoes. This lifestyle has grown frustrating for the young prince, especially when it comes to his future bride being chosen for him without his say. Akeem implores his father, King Jaffe Joffer, to allow him to choose his own wife, but the monarch declares that the prince cannot defy tradition and insists that the courtship ceremony continue that evening on Akeem's 21st birthday.That night, Akeem meets his future bride. She is beautiful, obedient and completely unable to think for herself. Despite his best efforts, Akeem cannot convince her to act as anything other than a mindless slave. He resolves that he will find his own wife; a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture who loves him for his personality, while still having the kind of strength of will he can respect — a woman suitable for a king. Tricking his father into letting him travel before getting married, Akeem takes his best friend and servant, Semmi, and heads out to find his future queen. Never having been to North America, the duo decide to conduct their search in the most logical place they can think of: Queens, New York City.Akeem and Semmi pose as poor African students while they conduct their search, but being naive to the way America works they can only attract women with serious emotional problems. Akeem is almost ready to give up until, one night, he attends a rally where he lays eyes on Lisa McDowell. She is his dream in every way and Akeem is convinced that he has found his future Queen, but there's only one problem: she's already taken...Considered something of a Spiritual Successor to Trading Places (also directed by John Landis), the story was conceived by Eddie Murphy and Art Buchwald (though Murphy was given sole credit for its conception in the credits, something that Buchwald wasn't too happy about). It enjoyed both domestic and worldwide success when it was released, even grabbing a couple of Academy Award nominations for costumes and makeup. The film is also notable for being the first in which Eddie Murphy plays more than one role, a trend that he would continue throughout the rest of his career.
This film contains examples of:
Abhorrent Admirer: Subverted at Akeem's ceremony where he meets his bride-to-be. When the bride's father first introduces his daughter, a large woman pushes her way through the audience, but it turns out she's also introducing the bride. Played straight in the Terrible Interviewees Montage, with a woman, played by Arsenio Hall, who "want[s] to tear [Akeem]" apart as well as Semmi, making him Spit Take.
At one point, James Earl Jones remarked on how his royal marriage had been arranged. So the codified Zamundan monarchy went back at least three generations. That means Zamunda was a monarchy at least as far back as the end of World War One. Once the Ottoman Empire royalty was broken, old-style monarchy slowly disappeared from Darkest Africa. But in this world, the Zamundan not only survived amongst post-colonial dictatorships and nascent plutocracies, it flourished. And it retained a strict European-style royal court, which held real power. Arsenio Hall may be a bit of a Upper-Class Twit and a Right-Hand Hottie, but he expects to be the right hand of the king of an entire country. That's some Borgia-level shit.
On the other hand, there are some hints in the film - such as Zamunda using the pound as its currency, Akeem and Lisa's wedding ceremony being a Christian one (which would imply that the Royal Family and hence most of the country was Christian), Zamundan police and soldiers wearing British-style uniforms - that suggest that Zamunda was influenced by British rule. It may very well have been a British protectorate at one point, like Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Uganda, for example.
Cleo: Look... me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's... I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.
The building used for the restaurant appears to be a disguised Wendy's.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Briefly; after convincing his empty-headed bride to start barking like a dog and hop up and down like an imbecile, Akeem stares at the camera in exasperation.
Semmi does this too, after hearing Akeem proclaim that a view from a run-down apartment in Queens is "Life. Real life! A thing we have been denied for far too long."
And Darryl, when he realizes Lisa's sister is trying to have sex with him.
And the little dog at Cleo's home.
Bride and Switch: When Akeem goes back home, it turns out Lisa came over to marry him.
Chekhov's Gun: Akeem flips a coin with his image on it in order to choose between traveling to New York or Los Angeles to find his bride. Later, Cleo shows Lisa some more money with Akeem's image as proof of him being a prince. "When I say the boy has his own money, I mean he has his own money!"
Chekhov's Skill: At the beginning, Semmi and Akeem spar with staffs, with Semmi taunting Akeem throughout. These become important in thwarting the hold-up at the McDowell's restaurant.
Comically Missing the Point: When Akeem discusses his reservations about getting married (pointing out that he's never even been outside the kingdom), his father assumes Akeem wants to bed as many women as possible before getting married.
When Akeem happily shouts "Good morning, my neighbors!" on his first morning in Queens, someone across the streets shouts "Fuck you!". Akeem mistakes it for a greeting, and shouts "Yes! Fuck you, too!".
King Jaffe Joffer does this throughout the movie. For instance, after angering Lisa and Cleo McDowell:
King Jaffe: I know you have been inconvenienced, and I am prepared to compensate you. Shall we say one million American dollars?
Establishing Character Moment: At the Black Awareness rally, when Lisa asks the audience to donate, Darryl, Lisa's boyfriend immediately passes the donation bin without donating, whereas Akeem immediately donates (albeit a much larger sum than he intended, since he's so intrigued by her).
Extreme Doormat: Akeem's arranged bride, who hops on one foot and barks like a dog when he tells her to; Disappointed, Akeem decides to seek out a wife with an actual brain instead.
Semmi: [looking at America on a globe] The land is so big. The choices so infinite. Where shall we go: L.A. or New York?
Forgot I Could Change the Rules: At the end, King Jaffe and Queen Aeoleon are arguing about what to do concerning their son. Jaffe insists that while he hardly wants to see his son unhappy, tradition insists that he would not be able to marry Lisa anyway, and he can hardly go against tradition. Aeoleon snidely retorts "I thought you were the King."
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: King Jaffe. Semmi too... even though he acts like a selfish jerk and a hindrance to Akeem throughout most of his courtship with Lisa, his heart is in the right place; while he clearly doesn't want Akeem to be unhappy, he is simultaneously aware King Jaffe would not immediately approve of Lisa as the Royal Bride. Thank heavens all ends well then.
Kiss of Distraction: During Akeem's second date with Lisa, they go to a museum where they see an exhibit about Zamunda, Akeem's home country. But when he sees a photograph of himself as the Prince with his King and Queen parents, he immediately kisses her to keep her from seeing it.
Large Ham(s): It would be easier to point out the non-hams.
Logo Joke: After the Paramount logo assembles, the camera zooms in, flies over the logo, and spends the opening credits flying over the landscape of Zamunda.
Marry for Love: One of the Prince's main motivations for coming to America.
Metaphorgotten: Prince Jaffe Joffer's lecture about how arranged marriages aren't so bad.
King Jaffe: So you see, there is a thin line between love and nausea!
Misplaced Wildlife: The elephants lined up at the beginning of the engagement ceremony seem to be Asian. This is forgivable, as African elephants are much more aggressive and unpredictable, and difficult to train.
Oh, Crap: Akeem, when he brings Lisa to his apartment for the first time, and finds that Semmi has "fixed it up"... very nearly blowing their cover in the process.
Also Semmi, when he returns to find Lisa's sister Patrice in the revamped apartment; she's come to see Akeem, and is demanding an explanation for how Akeem and Semmi are living so well on a minimum wage. Luckily, Semmi convincingly lies his way out of the situation, which buys him and Akeem time until...
Akeem sees flower petals, alerting him that his father is in America looking for him.
Patrice: Why are you hugging [Akeem]? He's just the servant. (points) [Semmi]'s the prince! King Jaffe: Who told you that?! (Everyone looks at Semmi, who is morbidly frightened)
Papa Wolf: Cleo McDowell surprisingly enough. He may want his girls to marry rich guys but insult her and offer to give him money for troubling you and he'll "break a foot off in your royal ass." Plus the fact that he's not a gold digger and genuinely just wants his girls to not have to struggle financially.
Akeem: GOOD MORNING, MY NEIGHBORS! Random person: FUCK YOU! Akeem: YES! YES! FUCK YOU TOO!
Pretty in Mink: The queen wears a few furs when she is in New York, and the King has his lion skin.
Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Averted and played straight; although definitely naive, the wealthy Prince Akeem has a good head on his shoulders and adjusts quite well to the life of an American on minimum-wage. However, his lower class servant Semmi, accustomed to the luxuries of the Royal Palace and the privileges of being personal assistant to the prince, spends the movie whining like a Spoiled Brat about everything. It helps that at the beginning of the movie Akeem has dreamed of a life of doing things himself after being pampered his entire life (the guy has never even wiped his own ass!) and thus a life of manual labor is a dream come true for him. This is lampshaded by Lisa who comments that she's never seen someone take so much pride in cleaning a floor as Akeem does. Akeem and Semmi's attitudes are contrasted nicely in an exchange between the two while they are working at McDowell's:
Semmi: What's not fair is me doing manual labour. (He looks worryingly at his nails) I am badly in need of a manicure. Akeem: Oh. Listen to you. "I am badly in need of a manicure". (Semmi motions as if he is about to snap) Were you going to say something? (Semmi, realising he has no other choice, gets back to work)
Running Gag: Throughout the movie, references to the ersatz-Jheri-Curl, Soul-Glo, are shown.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: King Jaffe tries to pay off Mr. McDowell for being "inconvenienced." Which only serves to pisshim off. (Fortunately, King Jaffe is understanding, and Queen Aeoleon is more than willing to tell her husband to put a sock in it by this point.)
Self-Made Man: Cleo Mc Dowell grew up in a slum, and was able to start a successful (if obviously plagarized) restaurant. His attempt to marry Lisa off to a rich boy is so she doesn't have it as hard as he had it.
Akeem gives the money Semmi was spending to two homeless men, who turn out to be the brothers from Trading Places. Also, the old Jewish guy in the Barbershop calls Akeem "Kunta Kinte". John Amos, who plays Cleo McDowell, played old Kunta Kinte in Roots.
Spoiled Sweet: Akeem has definitely lead a pampered and privileged life, but he's got a good, kind heart and actually adjusts quite well to the life on a minimum-wage.
He doesn't only adjust to it. From his expression and behavior it's clear that getting his hands dirty - both literally and figuratively - is positively liberating to him, since back home in Zamunda he wasn't even allowed to tie his shoelaces or use the bathroom by himself.
The Stinger: During the credits, there's a scene where the Alter Kocker tells a joke about a man trying to get a waiter to taste his soup.
"Ahhh, vadda ya know from funny, ya bastard?"
Table Space: Jaffe and his wife sit at one end of a long table, while Akeem sits at the other end. They communicate through an intercom. Akeem getting up to walk to the opposite end to talk to his parents face-to-face is a massive ordeal. This is apparently symptomatic of Akeem's entire relationship with his parents. When he does sit with them, his father remarks in surprise that he's grown a mustache.
I have a secret... [Prince Akeem and Semmi lean forward to listen closely] I worship the Devil!
[takes two shots in a row] See, that's the problem. I can't find a man that can satisfy me. Now some guys go an hour, hour in a half, that's it. A man's gotta put in overtime for me to get off [takes another shot].
I'm not interested in a man unless he drives a BMW.
Hey, baby, I'm almost single. My husband's on death row.
I was Joan of Arc in my former life.
Unintentional Period Piece: This film dates itself to the late 1980s with its depiction of Pre-Giuliani NYC, its fashion, its soundtrack, describing Mike Tyson as a "new boy" in boxing, and the presence of the original World Trade Center (Twin Towers) in the skyline.
Unishment: King Jaffe Joffer is outraged with how Akeem and his servant Semmi have been living in a squalid New York City apartment, and working for a local fast food restaurant. Semmi's "punishment"?
King Jaffe: You will confine yourself to our royal suite at the Waldorf-Astoria. [to Oha] And see that he puts on some decent attire. [To the female servants] And I want you to bathe him thoroughly.
Semmi: [happily] Oh, thank you, your majesty! [He then shamefully lowers his head again]
Unusual Euphemism: Still can be offensive, but references to native African fauna is a bit jarring.