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(2002) (Ice Cube, Mike Epps) (R)

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Comedy: Two friends have one day to come up with their rent money after a ghetto Santa Claus steals it, their presents and other belongings.
It's Friday and it's not going to be a Merry Christmas for Craig (ICE CUBE) and Day-Day (MIKE EPPS) due to a ghetto Santa Claus (RICKEY SMILEY) breaking into their place and stealing their presents and other belongings, including their rent money. Their downstairs landlord, Miss Pearly (BEBE DRAKE), informs them that they have just one day to pay her or else she'll sic Damon (TERRY CREWS), her recently released and quite muscular inmate son who now likes men, on them.

Thus, they decide to get jobs as low-level security guards for strip mall owner Moly (MAZ JOBRANI) whose row of stores includes Bros. Bar-B-Q run by Craig's parents Willie (JOHN WITHERSPOON) and Mrs. Jones (ANNA MARIA HORSFORD) and Day-Day's father, Uncle Elroy (DON "D.C." CURRY), who has a new girlfriend, Cookie (SOMMORE). Then there's the Pimp N' Ho's clothing store run by diminutive pimp Money Mike (KATT WILLIAMS), whose girlfriend, Donna (K.D. AUBERT), has caught the eye of both Craig and Day-Day.

The two security guards are supposed to report any incidents to local cops Dix (REGGIE GASKINS) and Hole (JOEL McKINNON MILLER) who spend most of their time in the donut shop run by Moly. Yet, Day-Day lets the job go to his head and his in-your-face policing soon leads to varied encounters with various patrons, thieves and tough punks, putting both their jobs and lives in jeopardy.

As Friday winds down and their predicament grows more dire, Craig and Day-Day try to figure out what to do and whether to hold their Christmas party where the likes of Pinky (CLIFTON POWELL) and others they've encountered during the day, will gather for holiday cheer.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
Long before "straight man" become commonly associated with heterosexual men, it referred to the half of a comedic duo who traditionally played the serious partner to a cutup, buffoon or clown. While the mismatched cop buddy flick has pretty much taken over such pairings of recent, at one time the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello & Martin and Lewis dominated the cinema and entertained the masses.

Straight man Ice Cube and his goofy partners - first Chris Tucker and now Mike Epps - have tried to recreate such onscreen chemistry in "Friday," "Next Friday" and now "Friday After Next." Granted, no one is going to confuse Cube and Epps with any of those other pairings, or anything resembling high or even low art for that matter.

Of course, I doubt that's anyone's intention in front of or behind the camera, or the expectation of any viewers. Yes, it's supposed to be stupid, idiotic and over the top, but one hopes it can also be entertaining. It apparently was for some viewers at our preview screening, so the film definitely has an audience out there. Yet, it beats me what they found so funny as what's offered is simply quite awful.

That shouldn't really come as much of a surprise to anyone who saw the original 1995 film or its abysmal 2000 sequel (that received a 0 out of 10 rating from yours truly). Although the locale, some of the characters and the basic plot thrust have changed from previous entries, this is pretty much just more of the same old nonsense, lackluster storytelling and bad filmmaking as occurred the first two times around.

Moving the story back to the city from the suburb setting of the last film, this effort tries to elicit laughs from having Cube's character reacting to and dealing with Epps' loose cannon character and an assortment of other goofy characters, occurrences and developments that show up, like the previous two entries, over a 24-hour span.

While fans of the series will probably enjoy the return of most of the characters and related behavior and antics, any unknowing outsiders mistakenly finding themselves in front of it will likely feel that they've wandered into cinematic purgatory. Despite being thankfully short at less than 90 minutes, the film retreads everything that made the first two films so bad, namely bad overacting, wretched writing and not enough imagination to counter the overwhelming inanity and banality of it all.

The basic premise - the guys have to get jobs as security guards to pay the rent after a thief dressed as Santa steals their money - has some promise, however limited it might be. One could see the old master comedians getting a lot of mileage out of coming up with gags and complications from that. Unfortunately, such pedigree didn't make it to these films.

Instead, there's the standard array of skit-like moments involving pot smoking, people not normally associated with cussing letting the epithets and four-letter words rip, potty humor, gay rape jokes and the like. Although I suppose it's possible that some of that could have been funny, Cube the screenwriter (who wrote the previous two as well as "All About the Benjamins" and "The Players Club") and music video turned feature film director Marcus Raboy simply don't manage to elicit that reaction.

About the only slightly humorous thing I found in the film - although it's definitely of skit quality - was the diminutive pimp Money Mike - played by Katt Williams (making his debut) -- and his clothing store that caters to "Pimps and ho's." Coming off as something like comedian Eddie Griffin impersonating Prince playing a pimp, Williams and his attire are about the only thing worth seeing.

While Cube ("Barbershop," "Ghosts of Mars") can be decent in the right roles, he feels incredibly stiff in these particular films and isn't the rice choice to play the straight man. Epps ("All About the Benjamins," "How High") certainly can't be accused of holding anything back, but his manic energy isn't channeled correctly to make the most of it.

The likes of John Witherspoon ("The Ladies Man," "Bulworth"), Don "D.C." Curry ("Next Friday") and Clifton Powell ("Bones," "The Brothers") reprise their roles but don't do much of anything new or memorable with them.

The additions of Bebe Drake ("Anywhere But Here," "How to Be a Player") as a foul-mouthed and lascivious landlord, Terry Crews ("Serving Sara," "The 6th Day") as her muscle-bound, man-loving son, Maz Jobrani ("Dragonfly") playing the immigrant strip mall owner, K.D. Aubert ("The Scorpion King") looking good but doing little as the requisite eye candy and especially Rickey Smiley (making his debut) as the larcenous Santa don't and can't help matters either.

With a few exceptions, most any film that's down the line in a succession of sequels is pretty much critic proof as it already has its built-in audience that only wants to see more of the same. That's certainly the case here and if you enjoyed the previous entries or at least found them entertaining to some degree, you'll probably have the same reaction.

On the other hand, if you disliked them, it's not likely that you'll be seeing this one, but if you did, you'd have the same reaction. Only slightly better than the second offering due to Williams' portrayal of his character, "Friday After Next" rates as just a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed November 19, 2002 / Posted November 22, 2002

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