March is here, and with the changing season we’re already seeing a turn toward big movie releases- so far this month we’ve seen the long-awaited sequel to the Eddie Murphy classic “Coming to America,” and the Russo Brothers reteaming with star Tom Holland for “Cherry.” Disney Animation’s newest feature, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” is also available to watch on Disney Plus with Premier Access (you can read my full review of that movie here). Read my reviews of those movies and others, like Netflix’s “Moxie” and “Yes Day,” below.
“COMING 2 AMERICA” (Amazon Prime Video)
The 1988 comedy “Coming to America” is regarded as one of star Eddie Murphy’s most popular comedies. Murphy plays Akeem, the prince of the fictional African country of Zamunda, who travels to Brooklyn to find his true love as opposed to entering an arranged marriage. Now, over 30 years later, Akeem is ruling Zamunda with his queen Lisa (Shari Headley). They have three daughters, but despite the oldest daughter’s (Princess Meeka, played by Kiki Layne) desire to take over the throne one day, Zamunda law dictates that the crown must pass to a male heir. On his deathbed, Akeem’s father King Jaffe (James Earl Jones) informs him that he actually has a son back in Brooklyn, and that he must bring him to take over the throne, or else Zamunda could face a takeover by General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the dictator of the country next door. So Akeem and his friend and aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall) return to America to retrieve his son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and his overbearing mother Mary (Leslie Jones). “Coming 2 America” actually spends very little time in America outside of this sequence, but that’s one of only a few ways in which it differs from the original film. Sure there are ways that it updates elements of the semi-dated 80s humor, with the whole subplot about how Zamunda’s patriarchal society needs to change; at the same time, “Coming 2 America” contains a bad transgender joke toward the beginning, among other things that walk back any steps forward the film tries to take. Murphy himself isn’t in the film that much either, as a matter of fact, as a good chunk of the story follows Lavelle trying to learn how to be a king, then following a similar path to his father when he falls in love with his hair stylist Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha) as opposed to the woman he is pledged to marry. Many of the jokes and scenarios are exact retreads of things from the first movie. If nostalgia is your thing then you might be happy with revisiting some of these characters and sequences again, but otherwise they are less funny the second go around, especially when it feels like they are being forced into a scene as opposed to happening organically. Murphy and Hall both get to play multiple roles again outside of their main characters and it’s delightful to watch them do their thing—I just wish they had better material to work with, especially since this film was written by the first film’s writers (Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield, joined by Kenya Barris; Craig Brewer, who previously worked with Murphy on the fantastic 2019 film “Dolemite is My Name,” directs). The cast also includes Tracy Morgan, with cameos from the likes of Trevor Noah, Morgan Freeman, Colin Jost, Rick Ross, Gladys Knight, En Vogue, and Salt-N-Pepa. Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“CHERRY” (Apple TV Plus)
There’s a part of me that wonders if “Cherry” might have worked better as a limited series. The 140 minute film is divided into several parts, each representing a new chapter in the titular character’s life, and each feeling like a completely different story, in a completely different genre, than the previous one. But when you take the Russo Brothers’ over-the-top direction into account, breaking this project into more easily digestible pieces likely would not have made that much of a difference. Based on the part autobiographical, part fiction book by Nico Walker, Tom Holland stars as Cherry, a young man who joins the army after his girlfriend Emily (Ciara Bravo) announces she is moving away and breaks up with him. After serving overseas for two years as a field medic, Cherry returns home to Emily with severe PTSD, leading him to abuse the medication he is given to controls his symptoms. Frustrated with his erratic behavior, Emily starts using too. The pair become addicts, first to OxyContin, later to heroin, and ultimately leading to Cherry robbing banks to fund their addiction. “Cherry” transitions from romance to war movie to a film about depression and addiction before finally pivoting to crime. The film is super stylized with little rhyme or reason to the Russo’s overly ambitious directorial decisions. It isn’t really funny, or sad, or sweet, or anything. The film tackles some tough subjects, like PTSD and addiction, but they make up only a fraction of this sprawling story, so it fails to dive deep and find anything new or noteworthy to say. Bravo delivers an admirable performance that convincingly portrays each new turn her character takes, but while this films gives Holland an opportunity to expand his horizons, it never feels like he fits as comfortably into his character. There’s a bit of a cockiness to “Cherry” that Holland does well, as well as an occasional scene where we see Cherry express deep fear or regret, and Holland nails that vulnerability; otherwise, the role seems like it’s too big for him. There’s really no part of “Cherry” that is enjoyable to watch; it’s ugly, messy, emotionless, and clearly believes it is Saying Something. But all I was left with was a sense of confusion as to what reason I had to ever care about Cherry over the course of those 140 minutes in the first place. Runtime: 142 minutes. Rated R.
At the beginning of “Moxie,” we are introduced to Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a quiet teenager who has also gone with the flow at her high school—even when that flow includes derogatory comments from popular football player Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and the creation of a list at the beginning of the year in which students vote for titles for each other (“best rack,” for example). It isn’t much farther into the film when we are introduced to Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), a new student who stands up to Mitchell, to their English teacher and principal (both of whom refuse to hear her complaints), and who opens Vivian’s eyes to the sexism embedded in their society. But the more the film progresses, the less we see of Lucy, a cool Black girl who serves as the bland white main character’s awakening before slowly slipping into the background. In fact, there are several supporting characters in “Moxie” who seem like they would make for more interesting and diverse leads than Vivian (and no offense to Robinson), like her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai). When Vivian secretly starts a feminist zine titled “Moxie!” (inspired by her former activist mother, played by the film’s director, Amy Poehler) and distributes it throughout the school, Claudia has a harder time making waves than her friend. There are some solid moments throughout “Moxie,” like the development of a romance between Vivian and fellow student Seth (Nico Hiraga), and the messaging that this group of rebel girls promotes is very easy to get on board with. But the film also lacks wit, and gets said messages across so pointedly, it occasionally borders on cringe-worthy. You could do a lot worse with a teen movie on Netflix; at least this one has an important and inspiring message about gender equality and fighting back. But it certainly could have been a very different movie. Also featuring Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, and Clark Gregg. Runtime: 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“YES DAY” (Netflix)
“Yes Day,” which splits its focus fairly equally between the kids and the adults, is a true family movie. Directed by Miguel Arteta, the film follows the Torres family. Allison (Jennifer Garner) and Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) said yes to everything when they first met. Years later, they are the parents of three children, and Allison always finds herself saying no to the kids to protect them, and Carlos does the same with his coworkers. They decide to try to get some of their adventurous spirit back and spend time together as a family by having a “yes day”—for one day, with some rules, the kids are allowed to do whatever they want, and their parents cannot say no. Naturally, a big part of the story has the day backfiring, primarily where it concerns Allison and her oldest daughter, Katie (Jenna Ortega), who wants to go to a concert with her friends—and without her mom. It’s predictable but sweet; the younger two kids, Nando and Ellie (Julian Lerner and Everly Carganilla) have a lot of personality, and Ramirez does a good job as the cool dad who learns he needs to be firmer with the kids rather than letting mom do all the work. Garner has a really warm presence that is fun to watch no matter what she’s doing (even if what she’s doing is beating up a woman over a gorilla toy at Six Flags). “Yes Day” certainly could have been more fun had it pushed its premise into wackier directions—for a film about a day where anything goes, it plays it rather safe, and is cute, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny—but it finds its heart in this family learning how to be a family again. Runtime: 86 minutes. Rated PG.