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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 Sequel 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.
- Acting For Three: Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall.
- Actor Allusion: As King Jaffe Joffer, James Earl Jones tells Cleo McDowell "Do not alert him [Akeem] to my presence. I will deal with him myself.", referencing two different lines as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
- Also, cameos by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche as the Duke Brothers, who Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd sent to the poorhouse in Trading Places. This film is also the source of a later allusion: Samuel L. Jackson played an armed robber holding up a cheap diner in this movie, and several years later would foil a pair of armed robbers holding up a cheap diner.
- Alter Kocker: Played by Eddie Murphy, of all people.
- Arranged Marriage: Akeem is given a bride as a 21st birthday present.
- Atomic F-Bomb
- Beta Couple: Darryl and Lisa.
- Big Applesauce
- Bowdlerised: This film has been shown on TV on channels such as Comedy Central and ABC Family.
- Bland-Name Product: McDowell's, a knock-off of McDonald's. It's Lampshaded wonderfully.
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.
- 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.
- Darryl does this when he realizes Lisa's sister is trying to have sex with him.
- Bulungi: Zamunda.
- Burger Fool: Semmi and Akeem. (Akeem wanted to find a girl who would like him, not the Crown Prince)
- Butt Monkey: Semmi
- Chalk Outline: "Damn shame what they did to that dog."
- Chekhov's Gun: 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.
- City Mouse: Semmi
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you! Who's next?
- 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.
- 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?
Cleo: (furiously) No way!
King Jaffe: Very well then, two million.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Though it's established early on that both Akeem and Semmi are excellent fighters, everyone in America views them this way until the holdup scene.
- Dawson Casting: Murphy is definitely not 21, but fortunately it doesn't matter too much.
- Deadpan Snarker: Semmi, and for the most part he doesn't even have to say anything... it's just the look.
- Defector From Decadence: Prince Akeem.
- Description Cut: After foiling the robbery, Cleo tells Akeem and Semmi this:
Cleo: Say, leave Sunday night open. I'm having a little get-together at my house.
Akeem: (to Semmi) You see? It is working! He has accepted us as equals!
(cut to Akeem and Semmi standing outside in the cold as valets)
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Establishing Character Moment: At the Black Awareness rally, when Lisa asks the audience to donate, Darryl, Lisa's boyfriend immediately passes the donation bin, 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 gets down on her knees and barks like a dog when he tells her to; Disappointed, Akeem decides to seek out a wife with an actual brain instead.
- Fairytale Wedding Dress
- Fictional Counterpart: McDowells. It's very heavily lampshaded / parodied.
- Fish Out of Water
- Flyover Country: Lampshaded.
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: The king at the end.
- Giftedly Bad: Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate.
Sweets: That's boy's good!
Clarence: Mmm, good and terrible.
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- Donkey is the Prince Akeem, Darth Vader is his Dad the king and late-night talkshow host Arsenio Hall his sidekick. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson plays an armed robber who holds up the restaurant Akeem is working at.
- And said restaurant is owned by Kunta Kinte.
- Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a guy getting his hair cut.
- James Earl Jones, who would go on to voice Mufasa in The Lion King, arrives in New York wearing a lion skin.
- And the queen, played by Madge Sinclair, would also be Sarabi, Mufasa's queen.
- Louie is Akeem's co-worker.
- Dr. Peter Benton is Lisa's starter boyfriend.
- Hollywood Tone Deaf: Randy Watson.
- Akeem when he sings "To Be Loved" loudly and off-key after his first date with Lisa.
- Important Haircut: Parodied when Akeem asks for an "American haircut". Snip!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: King Jaffe.
- King Incognito: It's the premise of the movie.
- 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
- Marry for Love: One of the Prince's main motivations for coming here.
- 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.
- New York Subway: A nostalgic look back to what the NYC subway looked like in the 1980's. This is an ACCURATE description and view of an average train that ran in service. (The first video that plays from 0:00 to 3:48) The train was NOT doctored at all, this is what they all looked like. It shows an R38 running, pre-General Overhaul, and covered in graffiti.
- Official Couple: Akeem and Lisa.
- Oh Crap: Akeem, when he saw flower petals, alerting him that his father is in America looking for him.
Lisa's sister: Why are you hugging [Akeem]? (points) [Semmi]'s the prince!
King Jaffe: Who told you that?!
(Everyone looks at Semmi, who is morbidly frightened)
- One-Scene Wonder: Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate.
- 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.
- Pimped-Out Dress: The wedding dress at the end, a pink one.
- The 'Queen to Be's' glittering golden gown with the enormously long train qualifies as well.
- Precision F-Strike
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.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Well, more like Rich Suitor vs. Secretly Richer Suitor Disguised As Poor Suitor.
- Samuel L. Jackson: He plays a shotgun-toting robber who tries to hold up McDowell's.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: King Jaffe tries to pay off Mr. McDowell for being "inconvenienced."
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them: At Akeem's 21st birthday ceremony.
Oha: The guests are waiting, Sire...
King Jaffe Joffer: (yelling) LET. THEM. WAIT! (softly) I'm talking to my son.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: The old men in the barber shop talk about boxers.
- Shout-Out: 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.
- Also, early on, Akeem says hello to a small elephant named Babar.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: A major theme of the movie, for both the plot and the comedy.
- Spit Take: Semmi does one after being hit on in a bar by a Creepy Crossdresser.
- That wasn't supposed to be a crossdresser. She was, however played by Arsenio Hall. Hitting On 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.
- Talking to Himself: Hall and Murphy play three of the four characters in the barbershop; one of whom is an Alter Kocker.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: Akeem and Semmi's attempt to find his queen at a bar:
I have a secret: I worship the Devil!
- 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. He tells Semmi "You have disgraced yourself, and you must be punished. You will confine yourself to our royal suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, [to Oha] see that he puts on some decent attire, [to female servants] and I want you to bathe him thoroughly.", making Semmi happily say "Oh, thank you, your majesty!", before shamefully lowering his head again.
- Unusual Euphemism: Still can be offensive, but references to native African fauna is a bit jarring.
- Video Credits
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What did King Joffe do about the chosen bride who has just spent her entire life preparing to be a princess?