Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Don "D.C." Curry, Anna Maria Horsford, Clifton Powell, K.D. Aubert, Bebe Drake, Katt Williams, Rickey Smiley, Terry Crews, Maz Jobrani
Written by: Ice Cube
Directed by: Marcus Raboy
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 85
Date: 11/22/2002

Friday After Next (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rebels Without Claus

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1987, Run-DMC busted a rhyme with "Christmas in Hollis," one of the first visions of Christmas in the 'hood: "It's Christmastime in Hollis, Queens; Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens." Fifteen years later, writer/actor/rapper Ice Cube follows suit 15 with the first Christmas movie set in the 'hood. Friday After Next marks the third film in Cube's laid-back Friday series. And like National Lampoon's Vacation series, this film probably will become a new holiday favorite, even though it's not quite as funny as the first one. (Still, I'm already looking forward to seeing Friday After Next on video next Christmas.)

The movie cleverly mixes moments of feel-good seasonal cheer with the fact that real life often doesn't take holidays off. It opens with a wonderfully twisted animated title sequence that looks like an old-fashioned Christmas cartoon special -- but dark and perverse. Scenes in the remainder of the film are covered in various silvery Christmas decorations to make up for the fact that it doesn't snow in Los Angeles.

Cube returns in the role of Craig Jones, a regular guy -- not unlike George Bailey in some ways -- just trying to get by. He lives in the projects with his brain-dead cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps, who also starred in the series' second film, Next Friday). Early morning on Christmas Eve day, a burglar dressed as Santa Claus breaks into their apartment and steals the rent money. Unfortunately, they're already behind paying rent and the landlady's enormous muscle-bound son has just been released from prison. If they don't pay by the end of the day, they'll get kicked out, and roughed up besides.

So they land jobs as unarmed security workers for a dingy outdoor strip mall, guarding establishments such as a fly-ridden doughnut shop and the barbecue rib joint run by Craig's father (John Witherspoon) and Day-Day's father (Don "D.C." Curry).

In addition, a new pimp-style clothing store has opened up. The proprietor Money Mike (Katt Williams) has an assistant -- his sexy, girlfriend Donna (K.D. Aubert), whom he verbally abuses.

Predictably, Craig flirts with the girl while Day-Day becomes obsessed by his new power and gets both cousins in trouble. In the final third of the movie, the boys throw a rent party in a last-ditch attempt to save themselves.

Although Friday After Next lacks the spontaneity and natural humor of 1995's original Friday, it earns points back with its Christmas theme. (I'm a sucker for Christmas movies, especially unconventional ones.) Writer Cube and director Marcus Raboy vigorously mix Christmas cheer and and real life, and the result is as tasty as eggnog spiked with whiskey.

Likewise, the soundtrack blends comfy, traditional R&B Christmas tunes (Eartha Kitt, The Temptations) with more abrasive gangsta-style music. The first third of the movie is laugh-out-loud hilarious, then the rhythm becomes predictable and the big laughs boil down to polite snickers toward the end. But by that time, it's the party scene and we've settled back to listen to music, look at girls and have fun.

In 85 minutes, Craig and Day-Day haven't learned any particular lessons and life doesn't seem any more wonderful than it did earlier that morning. But that's not a problem. Friday After Next is shot of Christmas cheer, particularly for those overwhelmed even by the prospect of Santa Clause 2.

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