Ice Cube and DJ Pooh felt that movies only showed the dark side of the urban experience. Cube had the vision of making a “hood classic” that would be rewatched over and over again and based much of the script — only the third he had written — on his life. They got New Line interested in the film — the studio had made House Party — and Cube hired video direct F. Gary Grey.
His only worry? Doing comedy when up until then, he was considered a dangerous thug.
Grey said, “Ice Cube was the toughest man in America, and when you take someone (who) delivers hard-hitting social issues in hardcore gangsta rap, and who has a hardcore view on politics, you would never think comedy.”
Friday (1995): Craig Jones (Ice Cube) just got fired on his day off (this actually happened to one of Cube’s cousins), giving him the entire Friday to spend with his best friend, Smokey (Chris Tucker, a comedian whose first audition didn’t go well but who trained, came back and won the part). They smoke Smokey’s stash — $200 worth of weed — and if they can’t pay Big Worm (Faizon Love) by 10 p.m., they’re dead.
The episodic movie finds Craig and Smokey trying to get that money, whether through borrowing, begging or stealing. They also run into Deebo (Tiny Lister Jr.), a gigantic maniac who forces Smokey to break into a house, after which he steals the money that Smokey has ripped off.
Friday seems like a modern day take on Cheech and Chong in the best of ways, while keeping more focus. It also has time for plenty of great cameos, like the sadly long gone Bernie Mac as a preacher, John Witherspoon as Craig’s father, Regina King as his sister and DJ Pooh as Red.
Shot in Grey’s actual home block in the homes of his friends, you can even see some members of the neighborhood show up that refused to move from the spot they were in. Grey just filmed around them as well as he could. Additionally, the cast and crew not to wear anything red during filming, as 126th Street between Halldale and Normandie was Crips territory.
Friday made more than eight times what it cost to make. Ice Cube and DJ Pooh had the right idea.
Next Friday (2000): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Steve Carr, who also worked with Cube on Are We There Yet?, Next Friday made $60 million off an $11 million budget, defying critics who hated the films — again, much lilke Cheech and Chong.
When Deebo escapes from prison to get revenge on Craig, Craig’s father Willie moves him to Rancho Cucamonga to live with his uncle Elroy (Don D.C. Curry), who has just won the lottery, and cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps). Day-Day makes a decent replacement for Smoky, as Chris Tucker didn’t come back for the second movie as he became a born again Christian.
Beyond dealing with the threat of an escaped Deebo, now Craig and Day-Day must avoid baby mamas, a gang called the Jokers and try to keep Day-Day’s record store job. While the move to the suburbs offers some fun joke, Tucker’s prescence is definitely missed. Then again, I find myself loving that Ice Cube is so loveable in these films, particularly after albums like “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” in which he unleashed venomous hatred on nearly every ethnicity and human being within the reach of his booming voice.
Friday After Next (2002): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Marcus Raboy, the third Friday movie again was rejected by critics and embraced by the audience that it was made for. It starts on Christmas Eve as a thief breaks into the home of Craig (Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps), stealing everything they’ve bought for their family and friends. Also — the rent is due and if they don’t get it soon, their landlady is going to unleash her just released from jail son Damon (Terry Crews) on them and in a violently loving fashion, if you get what I’m saying.
The setting in this sequel moves from the suburbs to a strip mall, a place where their fathers — Willie (John Witherspoon) and Elroy (Don D.C. Curry) — have started a BBQ place so good you’ll slap your mother. It’s also where Money Mike (Katt Williams) and his main girl Donna (K.D. Aubert) have started the store Pimps and Hoes.
Obviously, by the third movie you’re just hoping for more hangout time with the leads and less expecting a groundbreaking effort. That said, this is a goofball bit of harmless fun, a good holiday movie to throw on if you’re sick of the same films every December and makes me hope that we get one more of these movies.
Somehow, I never saw a single one of these movies before, but I must confess, they made a nice break this week, a breezy bit of fun and light laughs in the midst of dark times.