FILMS

Poor little rich boys

ARTHUR 2 ON THE ROCKS Directed by Bud Yorkin COMMING TO AMERICA Directed by John Landis

Brian D. Johnson July 18 1988
FILMS

Poor little rich boys

ARTHUR 2 ON THE ROCKS Directed by Bud Yorkin COMMING TO AMERICA Directed by John Landis

Brian D. Johnson July 18 1988

Poor little rich boys

FILMS

Murphy in scene from Coming to America; Moore rags to riches

Dudley Moore and Eddie Murphy appear to have little in common. Moore, a former choirboy and Oxford scholar, represents a refined tradition of British satire. Murphy, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., is black America’s cheeky prince of get-even ghetto humor. But this month, the two men are starring, separately, in a pair of romantic comedies that display striking similarities. Moore’s Arthur 2 On the Rocks and Murphy’s Coming to America are both Hollywood fairy tales about cute, lovable, rich men who end up slumming in New York City. In each case, the hero sacrifices his wealth in order to pursue the woman of his dreams. And in both movies, after bouts of cheap laughs and noble homilies at the expense of the poor, the outcomes are the same: boy gets girl; boy gets rich again; boy and girl live affluently ever after.

Arthur 2 is an unusually belated sequel. Seven years ago, the original Arthur presented Moore in the title role as a charming, scotch-soaked playboy who rejects an arranged marriage to a billionaire’s daughter and risks his family fortune to woo Linda (Liza Minnelli), a

waitress in the New York City borough of Queens. In the sequel, Minnelli turns as Linda, who is now happily married to Arthur, although he is as drunk and as childish as ever. But the father of the abandoned bride, still bent on venge, swings a corporate deal that off Arthur’s $750-million inheritance.

Soon Linda is back at her Queens waitressing job, while Arthur becomes a half-shaven derelict roaming the streets.

The effect is more maudlin than comic. The movie takes place at Christmas and is sticky with Yuletide sentiment—a bizarre context for a summer comedy.

The heart of the original movie was Arthur’s repartee with his butler, portrayed by Sir John Gielgud in an Oscar-winning performance. After dying in Arthur, the butler returns in the sequel

as a Dickensian ghost. But Gielgud’s crisply acted cameo only underscores the weakness of the rest of the movie.

The film-makers seem weighed down by the ethics of creating a comedy around an alcoholic. Their solution is predictable: faced with impending fa-

therhood, Arthur stops drinking. Moore and Minnelli, playing the troll and the tramp, make a lovely couple, but they seem disinherited from the comic wealth that made the first Arthur so rewarding.

Coming to America is an original movie, yet, like most sequels, it is a shrewdly calculated product. A brazen star vehicle, it is custommade to showcase Eddie Murphy and recycle his success as the world’s most bankable comedy actor. In fact, the movie is a narcissistic celebration of his royal status in Hollywood. He plays Akeem, an immeasurably wealthy prince of a mythical African kingdom named Zamunda.

Like Arthur, Akeem rejects an arranged marriage, instead travelling to America to seek a future queen among the ordinary people of—where else?—Queens.

Akeem joyfully moves into a tenement with a sidekick, portrayed by Murphy’s friend, television talk-show host Arsenio Hall. And they both get janitorial jobs at a burger restaurant called McDowell’s, a McDonald’s clone serving up Big Micks. There, the incognito prince falls in love with the manager’s daughter. By portraying Akeem as a model of ingenuous virtue, Murphy seems to be offering an antidote to the meanness that pervades his comedy. Still, the movie’s humor draws heavily

on his two-tone blend of racism and sexism. And under the coldly clinical direction of John Landis (Twilight Zone— The Movie), Murphy is only sporadically funny.

Coming to America is a comedy based on cynicism; Arthur 2 relies on sentiment. But their stories contain the same annoying flaw. Both movies preach the money-can’tbuy-me-love lesson and then betray it. In each fable, poverty is a golden opportunity for enlightenment; riches are merely an obstacle to ro-

mance. But in the end, once their amorous interests have been secured, both Arthur and Akeem regain their fabulous wealth. Without it, apparently, true love is inconceivable.

-BRIAN D. JOHNSON

ARTHUR 2 ON THE ROCKS Directed by Bud Yorkin COMING TO AMERICA Directed by John Landis