[Screen It]

(2000) (Ice Cube, Mike Epps) (R)

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Comedy: Hoping to avoid an inner-city thug who's after him, a young man moves to the suburbs where he discovers that life and the characters there can be just as bizarre, adventurous and dangerous as from where he left.
It's been four years since Craig Jones (ICE CUBE) finally stood up to a South Central bully, Debo (TOMMY "TINY" LISTER, JR.), and beat him to a pulp. Since then, things may have improved a bit, but even so, Craig still doesn't have a job, continues to lives at home, and there are rumors that Debo is planning on breaking out of prison to pay him a visit.

Thus, Craig's father (JOHN WITHERSPOON), a dogcatcher, sends his adult son to the suburbs to live with his uncle Elroy (DON "DC" CURRY) and cousin Day-Day (MIKE EPPS). Having won the lottery, Elroy's living the suburban highlife with his new trophy wife, Suga (KYM E. WHITLEY), while Day-Day enjoys his new BMW and works at a record store with his buddy Roach (JUSTIN PIERCE).

While Craig thinks that life in the 'burbs will be boring, it turns out to be anything but that. For starters, Day-Day must contend with and then try to avoid his pregnant girlfriend, D´Wana (TAMALA JONES) and her bullying "little" sister, Baby D (LADY OF RAGE). Across the street is a family of Latino gangsters, including Joker (JACOB VARGAS) Little Joker (LOBO SEBASTIAN) and Baby Joker (ROLANDO MOLINA), who intimidate everyone in the neighborhood with their behavior and ferocious pit-bull.

Things become complicated when Craig finds himself immediately attracted to the Jokers' sister, Karla (LISA RODRIGUEZ), evoking their collective wrath. It gets even worse when Craig and his relatives learn that their suburban home will be foreclosed upon the next day due to unpaid back taxes. Then there's the fact that Debo and fellow convict Tyrone (STICKY FINGAZ) have escaped from prison and are busy tracking down Craig.

As the day wears on, Craig must contend with Debo and the Jokers, while hanging out with Day-Day and Roach and trying to figure out how to save his uncle's house.

OUR TAKE: 0 out of 10
Most everyone, especially including the folks in Hollywood, love the end of the year, holiday season. Everything's decorated, festivities abound, everyone's joyous and people go to the movies quite often. In fact, other than during the summer, the winter holiday season is the most profitable for the movie biz.

Yet, just as the aftermath of the holiday season is a downer for some people, it's also usually a depressed and depressing time for Hollywood. Sure, some Oscar contenders from the year before finally open wide, but January, like September that follows the summer season, is the traditional dumping ground for really bad films. While the end of the year is known for "Ho, Ho, Ho," movie critics often react to the beginning of the year and its cinematic offerings with "No, No, No!"

"Next Friday" is one of those films that elicits such a reaction. The sequel to the 1995 comedy best known for portraying the hip-hop artist turned actor Ice Cube in his first comedic role and introducing the world to the hyped up Chris Tucker ("Rush Hour"), this one follows the standard set by the original. As such, it's filled with more lowbrow and sophomoric humor aimed directly at and no further beyond its target audience of young, urban males.

While the original film had a smattering of mildly amusing moments to cushion an otherwise unimaginative, poorly conceived and executed story (even for a purposefully "stupid" comedy), it did manage to become something of a surprise, sleeper hit (although its box office take was marginal, it cost nothing to make thus resulting in a tidy profit).

Thus, to no one's surprise, a sequel was finally made since any studio - when it smells easy money - will proceed regardless of whether the project in question has any artistic merit. "Next Friday" certainly does not. In fact, and despite the New Year having just started, I imagine we'll be hard pressed to find a worse film in the next eleven months.

Like most sequels, this one doesn't stray too far from the original's formula. As such, it follows a day - Friday, much to everyone's surprise - in the life of a streetwise guy who's just trying to get by but ends up getting tangled up in a mess of characters and situations. What then follows is 'humor" stemming from purposefully idiotic characters, drug use and plenty of bathroom-related humor. The only problem is that none of it's very funny, or even moderately funny for that matter.

Sure, those who enjoyed the original may find the offerings here to their liking, but with no one filling Tucker's absence (he probably read the script and decided not to return), the film is really quite bad. The reasons for that are plentiful. While it's clear that the filmmakers didn't intend this feature to be in the running for any statuettes, even stupid, lowbrow and/or sophomoric comedies usually contain a least a smidgeon of "art" and/or novelty to make them worthwhile.

"There's Something About Mary" and "Big Daddy" clearly weren't great films from an artistic sense, but at least they were polished and often outrageously funny. Alas, that's not the case here. Nor is the film structured or executed very well. First-time director and former music video director Steve Carr, along with screenwriter Ice Cube, deliver a story that's episodic at best, with a notable lack of story or comedic momentum. As a result and as a collective whole, the film feels sporadically assembled and the majority of the attempted jokes fall completely flat.

Of course, if your idea of comedy stems from people falling in dog excrement, hearing middle-aged, overweight housewives spewing profanities like an inner-city dropout or drug humor that was run into the ground during the Cheech and Chong era, your view of the film may differ.

Even so, die-hard supporters would be hard pressed to comment favorably on the poorly drawn characters and amateurish acting (purposeful or not) or the sheer banality and stupidity of the overall proceedings. Reprising his role from the original, Ice Cube ("Three Kings," "Anaconda") appears to be sleepwalking throughout the picture. Despite playing the straight man to the shenanigans surrounding him and notwithstanding being one of the film's producers (and its scriptwriter), Cube doesn't seem to have his heart in the role.

Replacing the antics of Chris Tucker is no easy task and standup comedian turned first time actor Mike Epps proves that point. While Tucker managed to get around his two-dimensional characterizations in the original through sheer comic effort (and that great, bug-eyed look he dons so well), Epps can't do the same.

For those who enjoyed the scatological humor of the original, John Witherspoon ("Boomerang," "Vampire in Brooklyn") returns as the father preoccupied with bathroom functions, and the hulking Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr. ("Jackie Brown," "The Fifth Element") reprises his role as the bully who serves as this film's catalyst, but turns out to be neglected and/or missing in action for most of the film. The rest of the roles and performances are all of the throwaway variety.

While Fridays usually zip by for most people as they look forward to the upcoming weekend, this "Friday" feels as if it will never end and will have most viewers - if they're unlucky enough to wander into any theater showing this stinker - looking forward to making it back outdoors with at least some of their sanity still intact. Hoping that there isn't a "Last Friday" or "In Two Fridays" somewhere in the works, we give "Next Friday" a 0 out of 10.

Reviewed January 12, 2000 / Posted January 14, 2000

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