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by: Michael Dequina

Released in 1995, the low-budget comedy Friday was obviously meant to be a big showcase for its co-writer/star/executive producer, Ice Cube. However, it was Cube's co-star, a then-unknown stand-up comedian by the name of Chris Tucker, who was ultimately credited for the film's modest but solid box office returns and even greater popularity in video stores (where it is still a rental and sales hit). With such a profitable investment-to-return ratio, a follow-up is inevitable, so now we get to see what happens Next Friday. But with Tucker having long graduated into bigger-budget starring roles, one wishes that Cube and New Line Cinema had left well enough alone.

Although it prominently featured the now-famous hyper comic stylings of Tucker, the original Friday was distinguished by its decidedly laid back tone and execution. Sort of a lighthearted tonic against the traditionally dour and violent cinematic portrayals of South Central Los Angeles, the film followed one especially eventful 24 hours in the lives of a close knit South Central neighborhood, and director F. Gary Gray (who himself has moved on to higher-profile and -budget projects) and writers Cube and DJ Pooh perfectly captured the often-lumbering rhythms of everyday life: moments of eventful activity padded by stretches of inactivity that is interesting in its own way. The film presented the 'hood as a typical community, populated by people all with their own little quirks, some more eccentric than others. As such, Friday was, if not exactly groundbreaking cinema, a likable film--not to mention at times one that was quite funny, thanks to Tucker and his memorable pothead character, the aptly named Smokey.

For Next Friday, Cube (now writing solo) and director Steve Carr decide to compensate for Tucker's absence (for the record, Smokey is mentioned as being in drug rehab) by creating some manic energy of their own in the script department. Next Friday's more quickly paced story transplants Cube's rather blah Craig Jones from the 'hood to the home of his uncle Elroy (Don "DC" Curry) and wisecracking cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps), who--after winning the lottery--live in a fairly upscale neighborhood in the suburban haven of Rancho Cucamonga. Craig is sent there by his dog catcher father (John Witherspoon, the only other major returnee) to stay out of trouble--which, of course, is not far behind: it turns out the stereotypically boorish Latino drug dealers across the street have a beef with Day-Day; and Deebo (Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr.), the bully whom Craig had beaten at the end of the previous film, has escaped from prison and is out for revenge.

Plot details such as these, however, take a back seat to individual gags. Where the first film was fairly grounded in reality, Next Friday is all about outrageousness. Craig's father spends most of the movie wearing a uniform stained with dog excrement. Uncle Elroy indulges in wild sex with his girlfriend Suga (Kym E. Whitley), who, in turn, would like to "keep it in the family" and get down and dirty with Craig. Across the street, the drug dealers get down and dirty themselves with a few "bitches" (which shows how well women are portrayed in this installment). Craig gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight with the flamboyant owner of the record store where Day-Day works. And, since it wouldn't be a Friday without it, there's a lot of marijuana, which is given an even more prominent role. These bits may sound funny here in print, but in execution--and when added to a number of other jokes attempting the same shocking effect--it's all a bit too much.

That could not be said of the original, whose easy-going way took its time to endear itself to the audience. Next Friday is always in your face, and in laying on all the outrageousness, Cube sacrifices a key element to Friday's appeal: a surprising amount of heart. Not only does Next Friday


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