New Digs for Ice Cube's not-so-Fresh Prince
It's the rare cash-in sequel that's worth the price of full admission, so it's no surprise that Next Friday (part of the minifranchise that includes 1996's Friday and an upcoming, NYC-set version tentatively titled Stoops) isn't quite the picture its predecessor was. Where last Friday was a loopy, hard-to-categorize lark, the bigger-budget Next Friday is a calculated teen gross-out flick that owes more to American Pie than its own progenitor.
As in the first flick, Next Friday's fog of riffs, gags, and barely connected events swirls around Craig (played by cowriter and producer Ice Cube), a generally put-upon, jobless South Central layabout who's tough enough to stand up to bullies but sensitive enough to woo brainy wannabe buppies like Nia Long. Craig's misadventures in the first flick had a meandering, doped-up circularity that went perfectly with the larger "getting high on Friday" theme; the antigun slogans ("Real men fight with fists") were quaint, doggedly sentimental touches that managed to come off like sincere attempts at moral instruction. This time around, such curious little moments are streamlined into formal nodslike flashbacks or Craig's voiced-over observationsthat reference Friday without really reliving its high points. That forces this picture to rely almost entirely on the comic strengths of a cast that's been significantly weakened by the absence of the shrill but energetic Chris Tucker.
Next Friday's main action involves Craig's transferFresh Prince-liketo the suburban home of his Uncle Elroy (Don "DC" Curry), a rotely freaky lottery winner who lives in gaudy nouveau riche splendor in the hills over L.A. Which just means a new set of oddballs to gawk at, including a sad-sack cousin (an able Mike Epps), an oversexed aunt, a foul-mouthed Asian grandmother, and the Joker Brothers, three Latino drug dealers who are immediately marked as last-reel villains. (No ethnic group is spared, but the Mexican stereotypes pile up pretty high.) Writers Ice Cube and DJ Pooh have broken the first movie's weed and fart set pieces into a number of gags involving dog doo-doo, comedic BDSM sexcapades, and ethnic humor directed at non-African Americans, all of that adding up to give Next Friday a significantly cruder vibe than the last. Curry and John Witherspoon work hard to liven things up with extended stand-up riffs, but since both men are fluent in only two basic notes (boasting and cracking), they average out after a while, becoming an ongoing BET Comic View-type dronescatological, down-home, aging, and ultimately rather boring. As for Ice Cube, he has the distracted, there-not-there look of a man on a forced vacation, which might be what Craig is experiencing, but doesn't exactly make Next Friday anything to look forward to.
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