After Schlock

Ice Cube coasts through another middling comedy

The advantage of making a Christmas movie is that, no matter how mediocre your final product is, it's all but guaranteed to show up on at least one TV station, at least once a year, in perpetuity; even such woeful losers as the Nicolas Cage-Dana Carvey comedy Trapped in Paradise or Hulk Hogan as Santa with Muscles get annual retreads somewhere on your cable remote. Awful or not, however, it must be noted that the vast majority of holiday movies make the season look like a fairly white Christmas, which is why the idea of a seasonal movie set in snow-free, Caucasian-free (well, almost) South Central Los Angeles holds promise. Enter Friday After Next.

One nagging little detail about holiday movies, though: In general, it helps if they're family-friendly. The Friday movies, while somewhat positive in their own way -- Ice Cube created the first one as a counterpoint to films that depict the hood as nonstop crime and tragedy -- aren't really for everyone, as they revolve around pot-smoking and delinquency laced with copious amounts of profanity. Friday After Next is actually the least inflammatory of, god help us, the trilogy, undoubtedly maintaining an R-rating in large part based on this country's still-irrational fear of the green herb (which nonetheless features less prominently in this movie than its predecessors).

Chris Tucker left the series after part one and never looked back, leaving Cube's character Craig once again with Mike Epps' Day Day as a sidekick. Epps, who was the winner of an extended talent search to replace Tucker, wasn't all that funny in Next Friday, even less so alongside Cube again in All About the Benjamins (which could have easily been redubbed The Thursday Between the Next Two Fridays) and, you guessed it, isn't too funny here either. Cube is always best as a straight man, but he needs someone more organically wild to rile him up -- the banter with Epps seems forced, like two friends who aren't really trying. Tucker's always good for exasperating costars, and that energy is missing here. Cube likes to discover new talent and should've gone to the well a third time rather than continue with Epps -- the likes of JB Smoove or Anthony Anderson would've worked better.

You want to know the plot? Good luck. It's not like there is much of one. There's a burglar going around dressed as Santa Claus, but he gets pushed to the back burner for much of the movie as Craig and Day Day bumble around as strip-mall security guards while trying to avoid their landlady's ex-convict son Damon (ex-Battledome wrestler Terry "T-Money" Crewes, filling in for previous villain Tiny Lister), an offensive caricature of a gay prison rapist (and hey, how is it that everyone who bashes Eminem never said one word about Ice Cube's homophobic lyrics, yo?).

At 33, Ice Cube seems a little long in the tooth to be playing a slacker living in his first apartment -- movie dad John Witherspoon, who as usual shows up for an obligatory toilet scene, doesn't look much older than his "son" at this point. Epps likewise looks like a father playing at being a kid. Perhaps age and the sparse narrative could be forgiven if the movie were a whole lot funnier. The good news is there's nothing as glaringly awful as Cube's line from Next Friday, "You've heard of El Nino? Well this is El Negro." At the same time, though, there's nothing as funny as that film's occasional high spots, many of which were rooted in legitimate class conflicts involving gangsters moving to the suburbs. The level of humor at work here can be summed up by the names of the two incompetent local cops -- A. Hole and B. Dicks.

Shining through the mediocrity is comedian Katt Micah Williams, in his big-screen debut, as the proprietor of a local "Pimp 'N Ho" store. Caricaturing a pimp is about as original as caricaturing a redneck, yet Williams breathes an energy into the film that no one around him has, as if he were off taking a bathroom break when the rest of the cast and crew were passing the roach. In the film's best line, he turns P. Diddy's name into the bodily function it was meant to be. Director Marcus Raboy, a veteran of several Ice Cube videos, catches a fraction of Williams' energy and shows some flair toward the end during an elaborately staged chase sequence, but then he ends it on a strange note of mixed brutality and cartoonishness that doesn't quite seem merited. He hasn't made a bad movie, exactly -- just one that seems to have forgotten its own jokes, much as those who watch it will forget everything about it a week later, stoned or not.

 
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