November 22, 2002 5:27am EST
In the last Friday movie the Jones family won the million-dollar lotto jackpot and left the 'hood for Beverly Hills. But the money has run out in Friday After Next and the clock ticks down once again on another Friday in the 'hood. Craig (Ice Cube) wakes up in the wee hours of Christmas Eve to find a scrawny Santa stealing the contents of his and his cousin Day-Day's (Mike Epps) apartment including Christmas presents and the rent money. "The ghetto " Craig commiserates "is the only place where you can get fried by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve." To avoid getting evicted--and possibly roughed up by the landlady's newly paroled son Damon (Terry Crews)--the two get jobs as security guards at a local strip mall where their uncle Elroy runs Bros. Bar-B-Q restaurant with the slogan "Tastes so good makes you wanna slap yo' mama." Day-Day's rent-a-cop antics eventually land the duo in some hot water resulting in yet another action-packed Friday. Friday After Next has some great lines but it's mediocre compared to its predecessors. Don't expect the staple marijuana humor here either; it has been replaced with raunchy R-rated dialogue instead.
The best thing about Friday After Next is the terrific character acting by the cast. Ice Cube's Craig is still the most reasonable Jones of the clan and his character's levelheadedness strikes a nice balance between him and Epps' motor mouth character Day-Day. Epps made his first appearance as Day-Day in Next Friday after Chris Tucker who starred as Craig's original sidekick Smokey in Friday left. Together Epps and Ice Cube who also collaborated together on All About the Benjamins fit neatly like a sort of urban Laurel and Hardy. A hilarious new edition to Friday After Next is Katt Williams in the role of Money Mike who runs the Pimp N' Ho's clothing store. Williams' diminutive size doesn't hamper the stand-up comedian-turned-actor's performance as he prances around the strip mall like he's a big man on campus. While the film has some new faces it also has familiar ones like the return of John Witherspoon in the role of Craig's father. This time around Witherspoon has made his character Mr. Jones much more crass.
While all three installments of the Friday series were scripted and produced by Ice Cube Friday After Next marks video director Marcus Raboy's feature film directorial debut. So while the films have some common thematic elements such as having to come up with cash in 24 hours (usually followed by an "or else") or being terrorized by a neighborhood bully they differ in look and style. Raboy's style here is similar to a music video; that is fast paced bordering on frenetic. And while he achieves the campy '70 look he was aiming for you may leave the theater thinking too much happened between Thursday and Saturday. Craig and Day-Day for example spend too much time chasing after the ghetto Santa or being chased by hooligans and not enough smoking weed. Ice Cube and Epps have such a great rapport on screen that it would have been nice to see them sit back and exchange witty dialogue. Their was also too much focus on the older cast members including Witherspoon and Don "DC" Curry who spend the entire film being repulsively raunchy--which is disturbing in a hearing-your-parents-talk-about-sex kind of way.
After 20 years with the LAPD Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) just wants to catch the crooks finish the paperwork and retreat to his mundane life at home where he eats TV dinners and pursues his hobby of making bad pottery. Patrolman Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) really wants to be an actor--he's only a cop because he made a lousy waiter. When Sellars bungles Preston's undercover case and media hounds catch it all on tape the irate Preston shoots up a news camera that gets in his face. Over-caffeinated network exec Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) upon seeing the damning evidence that could have killed her cameraman is captivated by Preston's complete lack of charm and convinces her superior she can save his crappy network by pairing Preston and Sellars up on a reality show. As expected Preston is reluctant--and even more so when he's forced to take the mugging Sellars as his partner. The two take impromptu acting lessons from iconic actor/director William Shatner (playing himself) and set off to attract an audience boost the ratings become celebrities and get the bad guys in a televised reality christened Showtime. Meanwhile the evil Cesar Vargas (Pedro Damian)--whom we know is evil 'cause he hides in the shadows he's flashy and well groomed and he mumbles in an unfathomable Third World/ European accent--is stockpiling guns powerful enough to knock down houses and blow the doors off a Brinks truck.
The movie offers a few good yuks--a coke-sniffing dog an unprecedented cameo by jive-rhyming lawyer Johnnie Cochran and William Shatner satirizing William Shatner (who does this better than anybody else satirizing William Shatner). Unfortunately we've seen a lot of his funniest stuff like the scene in which he demonstrates how to roll over a car hood cop-style in the previews. Rene Russo gives an effective souped-up Lethal Weapon-type performance with her hyper pushy fast-talking network exec desperate to make her name in the industry. De Niro's straight-man comedy is in his facial expressions--or lack thereof--and Murphy is…well Murphy. It's their first outing together and they play off each other like a foul-mouthed version of Abbott and Costello (guess who plays who?). We've seen De Niro play grumpy (Midnight Run) and Murphy play obnoxious (almost everything) before. But as you may suspect it's their grade-A chemistry that holds this badly stitched predictable though occasionally funny flick together--especially in regards to the jokes on Hollywood and the current bounty of reality TV.
You can smell the gags and The Odd Couple-versus-Goldfinger plot unfolding a million miles away. You just know Preston is hiding a gun inside that Big Gulp when he goes undercover to investigate a pawn shop and you know Vargas will make bad-guy errors in judgment like staging a robbery in downtown L.A. the day after he's confronted by our star cops in a populated disco. But that may lead you to wonder why the police--who are likewise not presented as being particularly bright in this movie--weren't trailing him as Vargas is the prime suspect in the gun-trafficking subplot. Some of the comedy borders on satire but isn't played up enough for you to tell if it was meant that way or not. The action scenes are so badly edited it's hard to tell who's chasing whom until the camera cuts back to Murphy's toothy grin and a cement-faced De Niro shooting out his car window. And speaking of commercial-laden reality TV the product placement in this movie is shameless--we get a full-length commercial for Apple Computers played not once but twice.