NEXT FRIDAY

R
Reviews

Next Friday, the sequel to 1995's Friday, picks up where the original left off, as Debo (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Jr.), the 'hood bully, escapes from jail and seeks revenge on Craig (Ice Cube), the South Central hero who put him away. Looking for cover, Craig moves into the suburban home of his free-living Uncle Elroy (Don 'DC' Curry). But, while enjoying the good life, Craig also finds new threats in the form of his Latino gangster neighbors. In the climax, Debo catches up with Craig, but ends up saving him from the gangsters.

More playfully self-reflexive than the original, Next Friday begins with an amusing reading of the titles, then segues into a series of loosely assembled set-pieces. With its politically incorrect humor, oddball characters and funky main theme music, the film is as much a throwback to Car Wash (1976) as it is an offshoot of Friday-both crossover hits. Though louder and ruder, the film also recalls some of the 'race movies' of the 1940s, where racial issues laid just beneath the surface of the comic-crime plots enacted by African-American ensembles. (Think of Spencer Williams' films with July Jones, such as 1947's Juke Joint.)

But producer-writer-star Ice Cube updates the minimal narrative with flashes of cartoon sex and violence, and reinforces old stereotypes in the process. Many of the black characters here are obsessed with sex, drugs or money. The attempts at humor based on physical pain aren't very funny. The racist slurs against other groups (especially Arabs and Latinos) are anti-p.c. but lack original wit. (Ice Cube thinks it's clever to have a Korean grandmother be hipper and more vulgar than the African-American youths of the piece.) And all the young women are either sex objects or harridans. Finally, Next Friday seems to say that black upward mobility will never lead to real integration-a cynical message.

Still, in the Wayans Brothers tradition, a few of the vignettes are savvy and effective. 'I'm about to show you who the real Puff Daddy is,' bellows Uncle Elroy during a wicked pot party. Mike Epps, as Craig's sidekick (replacing Friday's Chris Tucker), performs a memorably balletic escape from a bullying Big Babe (Robin Allen). A record store owner, 'Pinky' (Clifton Powell), gets into a hilarious standoff with Ice Cube's Craig. And an unbilled Michael Rapaport nails a bit as a racist white delivery person (singing the theme song to 'Good Times').

In Boyz 'N The Hood, Dangerous Ground and Three Kings, Ice Cube's ultra-serious deadpan tested viewer patience, but in this vehicle, his persona works as a straight contrast to the craziness surrounding him. Director Steve Carr shows some of the flair he has given to his music-videos, although a few technical glitches are noticeable. And the rich hip-hop soundtrack includes songs by Wyclef Jean, Aaliyah, Lil' Zane and Wu-Tang Clan, among others. Next Friday might have benefitted from some of these performers on-screen, but the film prefers to keep the antic cast front and center. Clearly, Ice Cube knows his priorities.

--Eric Monder