“I look at myself and the movies I do as a brand,” Ice Cube tells
Variety<>. No doubt, he works hard for the money. And even if it has been a while since folks rushed out to buy the new Ice Cube cd, he's earned righteous respect -- as a member of N.W.A., solo artist (AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted), actor (The Glass Shield, Three Kings), and director (the flawed, ambitious Player’s Club). Besides, it’s hard not to like Cube—on screen, he always plays determined, thoughtful, and sweet: you know, the nigga you love to hate.
But even Ice Cube’s general (and expanding) media savvy doesn’t quite explain the crashing popularity of the Friday movies, which appear to have taken on a life of their own. Even if you grant the initial appeal of John Witherspoon’s bowel troubles, how to explain the repeated, ongoing, even increasing appeal of same? Apparently, Cube and co-creator D.J. Pooh tapped into some zeigeisty appeal to highly desirable consumers, young, eager to spend their cash on popcorn and nachos and soundtrack cds.
The first Friday‘s apparently winning formula has governed the next two films, with most all the elements remaining in place, save for the fortuitous (for him) exit of Chris Tucker; after Smokey, he found a more lucrative partnership with Jackie Chan. And so, Craig (Cube) had to come up with a second second, his cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps). It’s good that Cube and Epps like each other’s company so much, and want to make movies together, but they do have a certain routine. As Craig observes of his father, Willy (Witherspoon), and uncle Elroy (Don D.C. Curry), they fight so much they might as well “get married.” Mm-hmm.
Friday After Next takes place on the Friday before Christmas, and does its best to turn all the goopy stuff of holiday flicks turned inside and “hood-o-rific.” (And we’ll just say right off that the “ho, ho, ho” joke is obvious and unfunny.) Craig and Day-Day are sleeping when a raggedy Santa in orange sneakers comes to their apartment and steals their presents, their food, and their rent money (this despite Craig’s valiant efforts to beat back the intruder, and Day-Day’s snoring through the whole escapade). The cops come by, do nothing, and the morning begins: time to start the new job down at the mall. Craig and Day-Day are rent-a-cops.
Hilarious as this premise might sound, in fact, the day at the mall follows the routine that you’ve come to expect from these guys. First off, they’re desperate to make back the stolen rent money, as the landlady, Miss Pearly (Bebe Drake) is ready to set her fresh-out-of-prison son on them: “If I don’t get my rent money today, somebody gonna get they salad tossed tonight!” The son, Damon (Terry Crews as Tiny Lister’s stand-in), is large and hard and actually not so interested in Craig and Day-Day; seems that, in prison, he developed a hankering for small, fine-boned men. Lucky for him (or not), Craig and Day-Day befriend just such a fellow, a “half-Prince”-acting pimp called Money Mike (Katt Micah Williams) who owns a clothing store in the mall called “Pimps and Hos Fashions.” He wears a shiny green suit and big old pimp hat, and has a luscious girlfriend Donna (K.D. Aubert).
Throughout the day, Craig and Day-Day do what they always do: complain about their money situation, run from thugs, call each other names (Day-Day has to ask Craig what “remedial” means). Craig tries to be upright and flirt with the first pretty girl who walks by Money Mike’s girl, as it so happens), and Day-Day screws up, again and again. Too enthusiastic about keeping order as a Top Flight Security Guard, her tangles with church ladies singing carols in front of the liquor store: no loitering. If this reminds you of Epps’ interactions with tourist ladies in All About the Benjamins, well, that seems to be the point. Epps plays just-behind-the-beat as well as anyone.
First time director Marcus Raboy keeps the physical gags moving, with leaps and falls and sprints and nasty sex insinuations every few minutes or so. The slapstick is less choreographed than haphazard. At the barbeque shop owned by Elroy and Willy—lots of lip-smacking for Willy—Elroy plays reindeer with a bunch of freaky kids who ride and kick at him; Willy is grumpy Santa; Willy’s wife, whose only name is “Mrs. Jones” (Anna Maria Horsford) is the infinitely patient Mrs. Claus; and Elroy’s new girlfriend Cookie (Sommore) is a busty, mostly silent elfette.
All this razzing on Christmas conventions, underlined by the continued thieving by that same Sketchy Santa (Rickey Smiley) who grabs Craig’s loot at the beginning, takes on the semblance of a theme (and goodness knows that all that crass business is in need of serious razzing). But the film is really about bodily humor—abuse, humiliation, stupidity. This doesn’t make it much different from mainstream (white) popular media of the moment, from films (Jackass and American Pie) to tv (Jackass and Tom Green, The Bachelor, Blind Date, Fear Factor), where humiliation passes for entertainment. Everyone’s invited. People audition for it.
True, Friday After Next has a script and timing, and true, the series started in 1995, before most of these other ingenious entries into the field. And, in fact, Friday After Next is one of the milder incarnations of the trend. The question is broad: what’s at stake in such buffoonery? Who pays and in what ways? The raging success of the concept—laughing at ineptitude and cruelty, cartoonish pain and inanity—is increasingly disconcerting. It’s hardly confined a single demographic, consumers or producers. It’s pervasive, predictable, and eventually, perhaps, potent.