As a screenwriter, Ice Cube has a gift for creating rowdy, riotously self-absorbed flakes — fools who think they’re players. For a while, Next Friday, the sequel to the 1995 sleeper hit ”Friday,” dawdles with amiable shagginess as it follows Craig (played, once again, by Ice Cube, who also produced), the chunky, impassive hero, out to the L.A. suburbs, where he goes to live with his Uncle Elroy (Don ”DC” Curry) and cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps), who have used their lottery winnings to escape South Central.
The movie is a comic cavalcade of screwups and hucksters, most of whom are so myopically focused on the pleasures and problems right in front of them that they’re completely cut off from the larger world. Asked if he has any of his lottery booty left, Day-Day, a vain petty scoundrel who has abandoned his pregnant girlfriend because he fantasizes that he’s a righteous pimp, replies, with utter seriousness, ”I dunno — I done went and bought some shoes.”
As long as Ice Cube is scripting moments like that, or the one in which the motormouth hedonist Uncle Elroy says ”I’m about to show y’all who the ‘real’ Puff Daddy is!” as he lights up a cigar stuffed with reefer, ”Next Friday,” in its winning slovenly way, evokes the early Cheech and Chong movies.
The first ”Friday” had a lackadaisical, ”day in the life of the hood” structure that felt true to the world it was portraying. It also had Chris Tucker, who, in his breakout role, gave the movie a hotfoot. He isn’t in this one, but that might not have mattered so much had the gap been filled by another wild-card actor or two. Instead, we get a dull revenge plot in which Craig attempts to escape the gargantuan local bully, Debo (Tommy ”Tiny” Lister Jr.), whom he beat up at the end of ”Friday.”
The movie starts high, gradually bogs down, then dies. Still, there’s no doubt that Ice Cube is a spry, distinctive talent behind the camera. I’ve always found his acting a bit too consciously stoic, but ”The Players Club,” the 1998 movie he wrote and directed, was vibrant and funny and dramatic, and the best parts of ”Next Friday” are, like its predecessor, the raw stuff of a comedy of urban manners.