Next Friday/Friday After Next

Next Friday (2000) / Friday After Next (2003)

Dir. Steve Carr / Marcus Raboy

Written by: Ice Cube

Starring: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, DC Curry, John Witherspoon

 

I decided, for the sake of brevity and completion, to include both Friday sequels in this post, rather than doing a full write up for Friday After Next and then coming back to Next Friday sometime next year when I get to its place in the alphabet. The movies are fairly similar, featuring some familiar faces from the original, as well as a few new characters, and I honestly don’t know that I would have had enough to write about each movie individually to warrant full posts on them. Both of these sequels have their moments, but neither can hold a candle to the original movie, and I don’t have a particular nostalgic attraction to either of them, despite having seen them both in the movie theater and having watched them each multiple times. I came to own the Friday sequels because it was less expensive for me to purchase a three-disc-set with all of the movies rather than buying Friday by itself. Since I now own the movies, I’ve watched them both, but I don’t return to either one with any regularity. The original Friday is a mainstay in my comedy rotation, but neither of its sequels have the comedic consistency and satisfaction to keep me coming back very often.

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Next Friday sees Craig (Ice Cube), still unemployed, moving in with his Uncle Elroy (Curry) and cousin Day Day (Epps) in the suburbs after Deebo (Tiny Lister), the villain from the original film, breaks out of prison swearing revenge on Craig for getting the better of him in the previous film’s climactic fight. Though he leaves the hood, Craig’s problems seem to follow him, as he and Day Day run afoul of the Joker brothers, a family of Mexican gangsters who are Day Day’s neighbors. Meanwhile, Craig finds out that Day Day and Elroy’s million-dollar home, bought with their lottery winnings, is going to be sold at auction if the family can’t come up with money that they owe in back taxes. The cousins devise a plan to rob the Jokers, but things quickly go south, and soon the whole family, including Craig’s dad, Willie (Witherspoon), are involved in the heist. Unbeknownst to him, however, Willie has delivered a secret package to the suburbs, as Deebo has stowed away in the back of his dog catcher’s truck, hoping that Willie will deliver him to Craig so that he can finally get his revenge.

In Friday After Next, Craig and Day Day, along with the rest of their family are back in the hood, and getting ready to celebrate Christmas. The film opens with Craig and Day Day’s apartment being burglarized by a robber dressed like Santa Claus who steals all of their rent money. The movie primarily takes place in a strip mall where the cousins have gotten temporary jobs as security guards and where Willie and Elroy have opened up a barbeque restaurant. While Craig and Day Day patrol the strip mall, hoping to earn enough money to replace their stolen rent, they encounter a whole new cast of characters. However, their tenure as security guards doesn’t last long as they’re run off the job by some tough guys whose grandmothers Day Day kicked out of the strip mall for loitering. When they lose their jobs, the cousins decide to throw a rent party and their family, as well as all of the oddballs from the strip mall, attend, helping them raise enough money to pay the rent. In the end, the cousins are also able to catch the robber, reclaiming their Christmas presents and their money, and leaving him in his Santa suit, gagged and bound to a chimney.

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The sequels are largely very similar to Friday, with all three films revolving around Craig’s need to acquire some small sum of money, getting dragged into schemes by his friends and family, and hooking up with a beautiful girl by the end of the movie. All three films also feature deep and talented casts of comic actors, both up-and-coming and established, but the biggest thing that the sequels lack in comparison to the original movie is the presence of Chris Tucker. Tucker didn’t sign on for the Friday sequels, so his character, Smokey, was conveniently sent off to rehab and Epps’s Day Day stepped into the role of Craig’s friend and sidekick in Next Friday. Tucker was the break out comedic star of Friday, and, as I wrote last week, he was the engine largely driving that film’s humor. Day Day is a funny character, and he certainly has scenes in both films that generate some good laughs, but Smokey was iconic, and the sequels suffer heavily without Tucker’s energy. Epps has a much more laconic comedic style and the dynamic between he and Ice Cube simply doesn’t carry the same charge that Tucker and Cube developed in the first movie. Though the Friday franchise turned Ice Cube into a media mogul, he never really developed much chemistry or timing as a comedic actor. He maintains a laid back delivery throughout, playing the straight man, but Epps doesn’t turn in an energetic enough performance to recreate the other half of the buddy dynamic successfully. The two actors both manage to have memorable scenes here and there throughout the sequels, but without Tucker’s humor tying the films together, the Friday sequels never become more than the sum of their parts, and often seem directionless, with the plots meandering from one contrived point to another.

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This is particularly apparent in Next Friday, as the film is largely built around the relationship between Craig and Day Day and eschews some of the ensemble casting that was so successful in the original film. With Cube and Epps still feeling out their comedic partnership, Curry, Witherspoon, and others are asked to provide the lion’s share of the laughs, but they aren’t given nearly enough screen time to do so. Another problem is that most of the new characters who are introduced in the supporting cast are too one-note, and often they’re little more than racist caricatures. While no one would accuse Friday of being the most intellectually stimulating film ever made, Next Friday too often goes for low-hanging fruit, settling for offensive or tasteless jokes rather than trafficking in the well-established observational comedy style of the original movie. While Friday felt like a genuine slice of life, an opportunity to take a brief glimpse into one day in Craig’s life, Next Friday feels like a hastily penned series of comedy sketches, with Craig and Day Day being shoehorned into one implausible and unfunny scenario after another. The movie has a handful of moments, and a few lines here and there that for some reason are ingrained in my memory, such as Day Day trying to pass of his obviously small rims as 20s early in the film, but on the whole, I think that Next Friday is the weakest movie in the franchise. It fails to integrate its new characters into the universe gracefully or to continue the successful formula of the original, taking instead a more cartoonish approach to comedy.

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Luckily, in Friday After Next, it seems that the creative team learned a few lessons from the failures of Next Friday and opted to steer the franchise back in a more familiar direction. The film returns the family dynamic that was missing from Next Friday (despite featuring more members of Craig’s extended family) by beefing up Witherspoon’s role, and by reintroducing the character of Craig’s mother, played again by Anna Maria Horsford. The strip mall also functions in a similar way to the block on Friday, giving the film a much more observational feel. Again, the audience is able to be a fly on the wall as Craig lives through another crazy Friday, and gets to meet a new set of eccentric characters in the process. Katt Williams headlines the supporting cast, playing a pimp named Magic Mike who is trying his hand at opening up a retail clothing store. Terry Crews is also a highlight, as he almost always is. Crews’s character, Damion, has recently been released from prison, where he picked up a taste for forced sodomy, and he and Williams share one of the funnier scenes late in the movie. Ice Cube and Epps seem to be more comfortable in their onscreen chemistry, and whether that’s the result of them having more experience working across from one another or from having a stronger ensemble cast to take some of the comedic burden off of their shoulders, the movie is better off for it. Friday After Next leans heavily on physical comedy, more so than even its predecessor, and it sometimes feels outdated and a bit offensive, but not nearly as much so as Next Friday. The movie largely feels like a Christmas-themed rehash of the original, and though it certainly doesn’t stack up favorably when compared to Friday, it’s a step in the right direction after Next Friday’s wrong turn.

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Overall, I doubt that I’ll be checking out Next Friday anytime soon, but there’s a chance that I decide to dust off Friday After Next sometime later this year when I want to get in the holiday spirit. While it won’t ever be a go-to movie for me like Friday, the third installment in the trilogy is a serviceable enough studio comedy. Its laughs are mostly cheap, but at least they’re there, which is often more than I can say for Next Friday, which almost entirely fails to move the needle on the humor scale. The franchise probably shouldn’t have continued without Tucker, but it did move on without him, and after a bit of fumbling in its second installment, Ice Cube and the cast manage to nearly stick the landing with the current final installment.

There is a fourth Friday film currently in the works, with Tucker’s involvement reportedly not totally ruled out at this point, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t going to go see it, whether or not he ends up reprising his role as Smokey. I love the original movie so much that I’m willing to at least extend the benefit of the doubt to future installments of the franchise. If it ends up being made, the upcoming sequel might well end up being terrible, but even if it is, my fervor for the original won’t be quieted anytime soon. When it’s a Friday, and I ain’t got no job, and I ain’t got shit to do, I’ll likely just opt to pop in the original Friday, but having the option to watch Friday After Next once in a while isn’t bad, either.

Friday

Friday (1995)

Dir. F Gary Gray

Written by: Ice Cube and DJ Pooh

Starring: Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Tiny Lister, John Witherspoon

 

Friday is one of those seminal comedies for me that I grew up watching, first on television in my parents’ home, then at sleepovers at friends’ houses, and finally into adulthood anytime I wanted to just throw on a funny movie and pay sparing attention to it while I have other tasks to accomplish. I’ve got every line of the movie memorized, and I’ve seen it enough times that I could probably replay its images perfectly on the back of my eyelids in my sleep. Somehow, though I know when my favorite lines and scenes will arrive, the movie never fails to disappoint me and it never gets old. It has the familiarity and comfort of an old sweater, enveloping and warming me with its humor, and making me feel like I’ve arrived in a place of serenity. Friday is one of my favorite chill-out movies, and I can’t be the only person who feels that way, because the movie has been an enduring success, helping to legitimize Ice Cube’s nascent film career, and preceding a pair of sequels. It’s another movie that I like to watch because it’s just fun and familiar and it takes me back to a place where I was just discovering a love of movies and humor, and I enjoy the nostalgic aspect of it.

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The titular Friday refers to a day that Craig (Ice Cube) wakes up with no job and nothing to do except hang out on the front porch with his best friend Smokey (Tucker) and preside over the comings and goings of their block in Watts. Craig and Smokey spend the day getting high and cutting up on their neighbors while trying to avoid run-ins with neighborhood bully, Deebo (Lister), and Big Worm (Faizon Love), a drug dealer whom Smokey owes $200. The friends try to devise schemes to get Big Worm’s money, but when Craig’s family is unwilling to lend him any money, and Smokey continues to smoke all of his weed rather than sell it, they have to take desperate measures to try to get the money, with Smokey attempting to steal it from a sleeping Deebo. When Smokey is unsuccessful, he and Craig are forced to face the music, and Big Worm tries to shoot them in a drive by. While they successfully evade the gunfire, Craig finds himself walking right into a showdown with Deebo when he tries to defend his crush, Debbie (Nia Long), from Deebo’s attacks. The two fight in the street and though Deebo gets the better of Craig initially, Craig takes his beating and comes back at Deebo with a brick, knocking him the fuck out. In the end, Craig becomes a neighborhood hero for standing up to Deebo, manages to get the girl, and starts off his first weekend of unemployment on a high note.

One of the best, and most appealing, aspects of Friday to me is that the movie not only has great performances from Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in the lead roles, it also features a who’s who of prominent comedians in supporting roles. Craig and Smokey’s neighborhood is full of colorful characters and even the smallest roles are memorable thanks to the excellent and diverse comedic styles of the movie’s cast. Friday isn’t really an ensemble comedy, but Craig and Smokey almost fulfill the role of a Greek chorus, sitting on Craig’s porch and observing, and commenting on, their weird neighbors and family. John Witherspoon is a standout as Craig’s cantankerous father, a dog catcher who hates dogs and who disparages Craig for his joblessness and lackadaisical attitude. The veteran character actor is adept at physical comedy and provides many of the film’s memorable zingers and catch phrases, with his comedic energy contrasting with straight man Ice Cube’s laconic line delivery. Anna Maria Horsford matches Witherspoon’s performance, playing Craig’s mother as a strong, no-nonsense woman who also doesn’t shy away from the opportunity to crack jokes at her son’s expense. Bernie Mac and Ronn Riser are both funny in small appearances, as a preacher and as Craig’s fastidious, wealthy neighbor, Stanley, respectively. Cube’s co-writer, DJ Pooh, is memorable as Red, the sad-sack loser who Deebo repeatedly victimizes, and Lister is a proper villain, monstrous and physical. This depth and breadth in the cast lends Friday a broad, and unique, comedic sensibility, one that would come to be emulated by the film’s own sequels, and by mainstream stoner comedies throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The brief, scene-stealing appearances by now-famous comedians also gives Friday a high degree of rewatchability, because there are so many absurdly funny moments to relish in.

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Of course, though, a buddy comedy like Friday is only as successful as its primary pairing, and Ice Cube and Chris Tucker make for a classic comedic duo. Cube lends the movie serious street cred with his cool, laid back line delivery, and thousand yard stare, while Tucker keeps the comedic energy sky high. The two actors are perfect foils for one another, and the movie wouldn’t work well without their performances at the core. Although Friday is supposed to be Craig’s story, Smokey is the breakout character, and Tucker’s manic energy gives the movie its life force. Tucker propels the story forward, with the movie often taking divergences from the narrative prompted by Smokey’s stories, or following Smokey into situations that Craig is absent from. Friday was an important movie for pushing both Cube and Tucker into mainstream movie stardom, and there’s little arguing that Cube has had the more successful career to date, but Tucker steals Friday in a way that makes one think the movie was written and conceived of as a vehicle to launch his career, specifically. He chews the scenery, mouth running a mile a minute, and steals every scene that he’s featured in, supplying the film’s most memorable moments and lines. I think that Tucker’s Smokey does need Cube’s Craig as a foil, but not nearly as much as Friday the movie depends on Tucker to provide the laughs that Cube isn’t fully able to. Ice Cube is a pretty fine actor, but he’s always playing some version of his own star persona, whereas Tucker’s star persona has largely become informed by his signature performance as Smokey. As the sequels would come to prove, without Tucker’s energy, the Friday formula doesn’t work nearly as well.

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In a lot of ways, Friday and its comedy contemporaries laid out the blueprint for a specifically 1990s style of comedy. As hip hop was emerging as a dominant force in mainstream music and pop culture, Hollywood responded by greenlighting dramas and comedies that reflected a changing demographic and cultural landscape. In this film, Ice Cube found himself at the intersection of gangsta rap and mainstream film comedy, a move that would foretell his eventual status as a media mogul, headlining multiple huge film comedy franchises. Though Cube has sometimes become a punchline for appearing in Disney films and other family-oriented entertainment later in his career, there’s no denying the credibility and originality of Friday. It opened the doors for a new type of entertainment, and for other rappers to try their hands at acting and headlining movie franchises. The film’s run-away success dovetailed with a sea change in popular entertainment, and its sense of humor helped develop a new trope in comedy. I still love returning to this classic just as much as I did when I was a young person, and I probably will be watching Friday when I want a laugh and a pick-me-up for years to come.

Boyz N The Hood

Boyz N The Hood (1991)

Dir. John Singleton

Written by: John Singleton

Starring: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne, Morris Chestnut

 

Boyz N The Hood arrived in the summer of 1991, the debut feature from John Singleton who was fresh out of film school at USC. The film was both a box office and critical success, and Singleton would eventually be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. He was the youngest person to ever be nominated for the award, and the first African-American filmmaker to ever be nominated for the award. The film likely stands as the high water mark for a career that has seen Singleton chart an interesting course, veering from his socially conscious early films to high profile gigs at the helm of Hollywood action blockbusters and franchise films. Through all of his creative divergences, Singleton has established a persistent thematic interest that ties his filmography together. Many of Singleton’s films serve as meditations on inner city violence and the systemic forces in America that contribute to the proliferation of violence and inequality in the African-American community, but never has he explored these issues as presciently or as urgently as in Boyz N The Hood.

Singleton began to develop the script that would become Boyz N The Hood while he was still a teen, basing much of the film on his own experience growing up in South Central L.A. The film begins with young Tre Styles (played first by Desi Arnaz Hines II, but later by Gooding, Jr.) being suspended from his school in Watts, and subsequently being shipped off to live with his father, Furious (Fishburne), in Crenshaw. As Tre grows, his father tries to give him advice and encourages him to avoid the temptations of crime and drugs that are so abundant in their neighborhood, and that could lead him down a path to destruction. Tre’s best friends, brothers Ricky (Chestnut) and Dough Boy (Ice Cube), choose radically divergent paths, with Ricky choosing football as an escape route from South Central, while Dough Boy graduates from petty crime as a child to more violent and reckless behavior as a teen, sinking deeper into the gangster lifestyle. Despite their differences, the three remain close friends and try to navigate coming of age amidst the turmoil of the constant violence that surrounds them. Ricky receives a scholarship offer from USC, and he and Tre sit for the SAT together, with the hopes that going to college will be their ticket out of Crenshaw. However, a chance encounter with a gang member pulls them both back into the violent realities of life for young African-American men growing up in South Central.

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The film benefits from Singleton’s lived experience, as well as from the performances of its incredibly young cast. Besides Angela Bassett, who plays Tre’s mother, no one in the principal cast of the film was over the age of 30 when it was released, and many of the actors were barely in their 20s. Sometimes I think it takes a younger voice to really connect to the reality that inspires a film, and Boyz N The Hood is definitely the product of a young filmmaker willing to take chances and make bold statements. Singleton was protective of his script when it was being shopped to studios, insisting that he direct the film himself in spite of his lack of feature experience. He knew that someone from outside of the community represented in the film wouldn’t be able to connect to the story in a meaningful way, and the end result of his tenacity is a brave, emotional passion project. Boyz N The Hood explores the root causes of racial inequality in 1990s Los Angeles from a position of informed authenticity. The film doesn’t shy away from depicting graphic gun violence, but it never glamorizes violence, or hold it up as a spectacle, in the way that it often is in traditional Hollywood films. Instead, the film shows us violence as a cyclical phenomenon that has real and devastating consequences on the people and communities that it is acted out upon. Other films of the period that explore inner city crime and violence feel, at best, moralizing and stilted, and, at worst, exploitative. Boyz N The Hood feels like a dispatch from the real world, announcing the struggle of a real community that was heretofore largely underrepresented.

Growing up in the 1990s, I was aware that people of color had a vastly different experience of life in America than did White people like myself. From a young age I followed the news and current events, and I can remember seeing footage of Rodney King beaten on the side of the road by officers of the LAPD. I remember thinking that King’s skin color had something to do with the way that the officers felt they could savagely assault him. In my head, I tied these images to the ones I had seen in books of civil rights protestors being sprayed with hoses and attacked by police dogs, and I started to understand the concept of an institutional sort of racism that persists over generations and is less about individual acts of racial hatred, and more about an overarching denial of basic humanity and an attempt to maintain a repressive status quo. Of course, I didn’t come to all of these conclusions all at once, and certainly not at the young age of seven or eight years old, which I was when I started to consider some of these questions during the time of the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots, and the O.J. Simpson trial. It took time and life experience to understand the complicated issue of race in America, and watching Boyz N The Hood helped to put some of the final pieces into place. I’ve written before about using films as a way to explore other cultures or other experiences different than my own, and Boyz N The Hood was an early example of that in my life. I watched it for the first time when I was in high school, about the same age as the film’s protagonists, and while it didn’t open my eyes to a reality that I was blind to, it did present its central problems in ways that I had never considered them before.

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I’m referring to the scene in the middle of the film in which Furious takes Tre and Ricky to Compton and shows them a billboard advertising cash for homes. He introduces them to the concept of gentrification. This scene was also my first introduction to the concept of gentrification and to the economic ramifications of institutionalized racism. In under two minutes, Furious outlines the attempts to marginalize African-American communities through flooding them with drugs and guns, and by so doing to undermine and devalue African-American lives. He hits on the media’s ignorance of the societal problems of the African-American community, until those problems begin to cross over into suburbia or the “heartland,” at which point they are deemed “epidemics.” The violence of the film is a symptom of the larger disease of institutionalized racism, a centuries’ long campaign on the part of governments and corporations to delegitimize non-White communities. Keeping people fighting amongst themselves is a great strategy to maintain existing power structures, and agents of the State such as the police and the media exist to help foment that infighting, and to uphold the yoke of official power that is exacted over repressed communities. Hearing these sorts of ideas expressed explicitly in the film, coupled with a burgeoning interest in Socialism, helped to influence my worldview as a young man. Though I was a White man, I understood that I could stand in solidarity with minorities by trying to resist the influence of these power structures and exposing the fallacy of race as a factor of contention between people. The scene isn’t the most successful one in the film cinematically, as Furious’s sermonizing on the street corner to a magically arriving crowd of listeners simply feels a bit forced and inorganic, however, it is the most ideologically important moment in the film, because it helps to unpack the complicated gnarl of roots behind the pervasive violence shown in the film.

This scene likely sticks out as feeling somewhat inauthentic simply because the rest of the film is so naturalistic. As I’ve mentioned several times now, Boyz N The Hood is simply an authentic movie. The performances are nuanced, naturalistic, and emotionally resonant, and in many cases the performances belie the actors’ lack of professional experience. At the time known only as a rapper, Ice Cube steals the movie with his powerhouse portrayal of Dough Boy. He is both menacing and charming at the same time, displaying the charisma and onscreen presence that would lead him to a crossover career in films. In the early 1990s, Ice Cube was one of the unflinching faces of West Coast gangsta rap, but in Boyz N The Hood, he displays an emotional range not exhibited on his solo albums or with N.W.A. The scene where he and Tre carry Ricky’s lifeless body into his house after he is gunned down by a local gangster whom he had disrespected never fails to make me tear up. The loss of Ricky’s life is senseless, but something about the desperation in Dough Boy’s pleas that he be allowed to take Ricky’s infant son out of the room is the hardest part of the scene for me to watch. “He doesn’t need to see this,” he insists repeatedly, and there seems to be an underlying knowledge that this early trauma could lead the boy down a path towards the same vicious cycle of violence that Dough Boy himself is caught up in. That knowledge is certainly apparent in the single tear that Dough Boy sheds immediately before he pulls the trigger, exacting his revenge on Ricky’s killers. The bullet won’t bring Ricky back, and it will likely serve as a death sentence for Dough Boy, as well.

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Cuba Gooding, Jr. also turns in an emotionally affective performance, portraying Tre as a young man attempting to claim his own masculinity in a world that is set up to undermine it at every step of the way. Though his friends are caught up in gang activity, Tre eschews violence and is generally a law-abiding young man. He takes his father’s lessons to heart, and even though he goes above and beyond to walk the straight and narrow, Tre sometimes still finds himself on the wrong side of forces of oppression. This is most obvious in the scene where Tre and Ricky are pulled over, profiled for “driving while Black,” and Tre is threatened by a racist African-American cop. During the traffic stop, both men are pulled out of the car, and Tre is forced up against the hood. “I hate little motherfuckers like you,” the cop says as he presses his gun into Tre’s chin, threatening to kill him. The police receive a call of a possible murder and let Tre and Ricky go, but the damage has already been done, as Tre realizes the truth in the cop’s words: “I could blow your head off and you couldn’t do shit.” This lack of power in the face of racist, State-sanctioned authority is at the heart of Tre’s crisis of masculinity. How can an individual reclaim agency in a system that is designed to deny him of his basic human dignity?

This is the question at the center of Boyz N The Hood, a film in which its characters are struggling to define personal success as something greater than simply surviving the day. Singleton begins the film with statistics about the homicide rate in the African-American community and ends it with a title imploring its audience to “increase the peace.” In between he paints a vivid picture of a generation rapidly being lost to drugs and violence, turning to nihilism in the face of oppressive powers often too vast to easily comprehend. He paints a picture of a community in crisis. I imagine Boyz N The Hood must have felt like a bomb dropping for audiences who saw it for the first time in 1991. I know that it felt that way for me when I first saw it some ten years later, and it still feels that way today over a quarter century after its release. Ricky’s death left me as emotionally raw watching the film a few days ago as it did the first time I saw it, and its questions of race, identity, and masculinity feel even more relevant today. The film drops knowledge but it also helps to foster empathy, and I think those are two of the highest purposes of any work of art.