Craig (Rap artist Ice Cube) and his pal Smokey (comedian Chris Tucker) are a couple of young guys who sit around wasting time on a run-of-the-mill weekday in FRIDAY (New Line, R). Damned if they don’t get themselves good and messed up in the course of this rude, raw comedy set in working-class Los Angeles and directed by F. Gary Gray. And damned if they’re not charming.

Okay, okay, well, maybe charming’s the wrong word. But somehow, in this morally indefensible story (written by Ice Cube and D.J. Pooh) about a layabout (Cube) who can’t be prodded to look for a job and his twitchy bad-news buddy who blows his days away in a cloud of marijuana smoke, Gray (who has directed music videos for Cube and Queen Latifah) has found an effective balance between nasty stuff and stuff that just cracks a viewer up. In the details, Gary builds a world: Craig’s sister sleeps propped on her elbow so her coif won’t get mussed; Craig’s girlfriend brushes back her waist-length hair extensions with fierce long red fingernails. Craig’s neighbors include a yuppie homesteader, a hulking bully of a guy who motors around on a cheap bike, and a seductive housewife shacked up with a dwarf. While Tucker twitches and fast-talks his friend into trouble, Cube, who first showed his theatrical stuff in Boyz N the Hood, solidifies into a believable lug. There are a bunch of dumb jokes (particularly involving those old evergreens, toilet activities and odors), the dramatic climax is hokey and stilted, and, like I said, all moral values are shot to hell. But at least Friday has energy, and sass, and the nerve to suggest that the line between tragedy and comedy may be in the bloodshot eye of the beholder. B

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