Next Friday

There are a few good laughs but few surprises in "Next Friday," an amiably unfocused sequel that adheres to the formula established by its surprisingly profitable 1995 predecessor. Very much like "Friday," which launched the screen careers of director F. Gary Gray and co-star Chris Tucker, new pic plays like a series of uneven comic riffs that were invented on a day-to-day basis during filming.

With:
Craig Jones - Ice Cube Day-Day - Mike Epps Roach - Justin Pierce Mr. Jones - John Witherspoon Uncle Elroy - Don "DC" Curry Joker - Jacob Vargas Lil Joker - Lobo Sebastian Baby Joker - Rolando Molina Karla - Lisa Rodriguez Debo - Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. Suga - Kym E. Whitley Miss Ho-Kym - Amy Hill D'Wana - Tamala Jones Baby D - Robin Allen

There are a few good laughs but few surprises in “Next Friday,” an amiably unfocused sequel that adheres to the formula established by its surprisingly profitable 1995 predecessor. Very much like “Friday,” which launched the screen careers of director F. Gary Gray and co-star Chris Tucker, new pic plays like a series of uneven comic riffs that were invented on a day-to-day basis during filming. That didn’t hurt the original, which generated a huge following on video and cable, and it shouldn’t keep the followup from scoring impressive B.O. numbers and generating brisk ancillary biz.

Smoky, the aptly named pothead played by Tucker in the previous pic, has been written out of the franchise. (His absence is explained in a throwaway scrap of dialogue: “He went into rehab last month!”) But rapper-actor Ice Cube once again makes a winning impression as Craig Jones, an underemployed slacker who somehow maintains his cool while responding to the wild goings-on around him.

The first “Friday,” which Ice Cube co-wrote with DJ Pooh, followed Craig through an unusually eventful day in the life of his South Central L.A. neighborhood. Pic ended happily, albeit incredibly, with Craig’s two-fisted defeat of a monstrous bully, Debo (Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr.), and the hopeful suggestion of happily-ever-aftering.

As the sequel begins, however, it’s clear that Debo — newly escaped from prison — wants payback. So Craig’s dogcatcher father (John Witherspoon) brings his son to Rancho Cucamonga, to hide out in the posh suburban home of Craig’s Uncle Elroy (Don “DC” Curry) until Debo is recaptured. Uncle Elroy, flush with lottery winnings and preeningly proud of his upscale status, greets his nephew with open arms. But he warns the young man to keep his hands off Suga (Kym E. Whitley), his zaftig trophy wife. Suga, not surprisingly, goes to great lengths to keep her hands on Craig.

“Next Friday” — which credits Ice Cube as solo scriptwriter — is something short of a romp. Indeed, the pic tends to amble along at the pace of a bemused tourist on a sightseeing expedition, and pauses repeatedly to introduce various supporting characters: Day-Day (Mike Epps), Uncle Elroy’s none-too-bright son; Miss Ho-Kym (Amy Hill), a friendly and foul-mouthed next-door neighbor; Roach (Justin Pierce), Day-Day’s stoner buddy; and D’Wana (Tamala Jones), Day-Day’s angry and pregnant ex-girlfriend.

A trio of high-rolling Latino drug dealers — Joker (Jacob Vargas), Lil Joker (Lobo Sebastian) and Baby Joker (Rolando Molina) — and their beautiful sister (Lisa Rodriguez) also figure in the mix. Some sensitive souls likely will be infuriated by the stereotypical depiction of the Jokers and their sibling. But just about every character in “Next Friday” is a type of some kind, and the pic is too larky and goofy to come across as mean-spirited.

Early on, Craig’s father slips in his front lawn and lands on a pile of dog excrement. That pretty much sets the tone for the movie’s humor. While director Steve Carr gives his actors plenty of free rein — and, in a few cases, just enough rope to hang themselves — he wisely refrains from extreme gross-out jokes. On the other hand, there are relatively few moments of sidesplitting hilarity, although several scenes merit, at the very least, an approving guffaw or satisfied smile. Unlike many recent comedies aimed primarily at African-American audiences, “Next Friday” stands a better-than-fair chance of attracting a crossover audience.

Ice Cube radiates his usual low-key charisma — though he was certainly better showcased in “Three Kings” — and he interacts effectively with his more raucous co-stars. Once again, Witherspoon steals every scene that isn’t nailed to the floor as Craig’s father, and Lister huffs and puffs with more ferocity than anyone this side of the Big Bad Wolf.

The enjoyably eclectic soundtrack runs the gamut from golden oldies (David Bowie’s “Fame” and the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me”) to fresh contemporary material. Chief among the latter: “Chin Check,” the first new cut in 10 years by the temporarily reunited N.W.A (with Snoop Dogg filling in for the late Easy-E), and Ice Cube’s rendition (with Mack 10 and Ms. Toi) of the chart-bound “You Can Do It.” Other production values are adequate across the board.

Next Friday

Production: A New Line Cinema release of a Cubevision production. Produced by Ice Cube. Executive producers, Michael Gruber, Claire Rudnick Polstein. Co-executive producer, Matt Moore. Co-producers, Douglas Curtis, Matt Alvarez. Directed by Steve Carr. Screenplay, Ice Cube, based on characters created by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh.

With: Craig Jones - Ice Cube Day-Day - Mike Epps Roach - Justin Pierce Mr. Jones - John Witherspoon Uncle Elroy - Don "DC" Curry Joker - Jacob Vargas Lil Joker - Lobo Sebastian Baby Joker - Rolando Molina Karla - Lisa Rodriguez Debo - Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. Suga - Kym E. Whitley Miss Ho-Kym - Amy Hill D'Wana - Tamala Jones Baby D - Robin Allen

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