This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.
This week, I’m looking at Steve Carr’s stoner comedy sequel, Next Friday…
All things being equal, you may have imagined Walter Hill’s dark science-fiction thriller Supernova would have ruled the box office in the second week of January 2000 but it ended up a critical and commercial dud, paving the way for the modest success of Steve Carr’s Next Friday – the sequel to a film that struck much more of a chord in the culture of black cinema.
Friday appeared in 1995, the brainchild of successful rapper Ice Cube and his co-writer DJ Pooh, who teamed with director F. Gary Gray (in his debut, long before the heights of The Fate of the Furious) to shoot in a modest 20 days a low-budget comedy which was designed by Cube to emulate the modest, indie stylistics of a Kevin Smith but rather for African-American culture. Friday was a slice of life which transformed Cube from rapper to movie star—within two years he would be headlining Dangerous Ground and starring in the schlocky Anaconda and the critically acclaimed Three Kings a couple of years beyond that—not to mention featuring a raft of stars to come: Chris Tucker, Regina King, Michael Clarke Duncan. It was also a surprise hit, tapping into a sub-genre that Cube astutely realised had not been mined by black performers and filmmakers.
As a result, Next Friday was almost an inevitability but, to paraphrase Hugo Drax in Moonraker, it arrives with the “tediousness of an unloved season”. While outwardly amusing, with plenty of basic scatological and farcical gags to keep punters busy, it is an example of the kind of diminishing sequel returns that the early 2000’s would deliver in spades.
It is, quite simply, a film with absolutely no reason to exist beyond the financial.
Friday, to its credit, was about more than just cheap laughs and appealing to racial and sexual stereotypes. Cube, Pooh and Gray were working to comment on the portrayal of youthful black society in cinema since particularly the 1980’s:
In the hood, they was doing movies like Boyz N the Hood, which I did, Menace II Society, South Central, and even Colors, going back that far. Everybody was looking at our neighborhood like it was hell on Earth, like the worst place you can grow up in America. And I’m like, Why? I didn’t see it all that way. I mean, I knew it was crazy around where I grew up but we had fun in the hood. We used to trip off the neighborhood. I was a fan of Cheech and Chong movies, of In Living Color, Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle; we watched them all the time and laughed at them. DJ Pooh is not only a superproducer but also a fool and crazy as hell. We in the studio laughing all day, smoking weed, and we were just like, “Yo, we need to create something to show how the hood really is, from our vantage point.” That’s how it started.
In that sense, Friday was about correcting stereotypes as opposed to how Next Friday perpetrates them, not just in terms of black culture but particularly Mexican immigrant culture. It even propagated a well known internet meme, ‘Bye, Felicia’, meant in Friday as a dismissive brush off for an inconsequential person, a meme which still finds traction almost a quarter of a century on. While the film itself may not resonate as one of the classic comedies of the 90’s, it maintains a cult following, and serves as an intentional counterbalance to the streetwise, urban grit of Spike Lee and John Singleton.
This is one of the reasons Next Friday feels like such a cynical cash in, a way to try and recapture the mood of a picture which reflected a mid-90’s change in how black culture was perceived on television in the mainstream. Will Smith doubtless played a big part in this, transposing his Fresh Prince of Bel Air persona into a blockbuster leading man career buoyed by comedy that worked gangbusters in Independence Day and Men in Black particularly, both of which came in Friday’s slipstream. Chris Tucker, who declined to return as his original stoner character Smokey in the sequel, moved on to strike out in The Fifth Element and memorably with Jackie Chan in Rush Hour in 1998. Friday doubtless helped this transition of black movie stars into more than just gang members or persecuted minorities.
Next Friday takes all of this for granted. It places Cube’s everyman Craig Jones into a new neighbourhood after he takes down the hood bully Deebo (the gravely voiced Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister. Jr) in the first movie, placing into jointly a sex/culture clash farce. Another day in the life, the titular ‘next Friday’, plays out with Craig staying with his cousin Day-Day (a noisy Mike Epps, standing in for Tucker), his randy Uncle Elroy (Don ‘D.C.’ Curry) and his wife, the voluptuous, sex-mad Suga (Kym Whitley – perhaps best known as the hooker Larry David picks up in the car-pool episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm), as they are dragged into Mexican drug scams, tax problems and vengeful, pregnant ex’s. Cube is very much the straight man surrounded by an increasingly zany assortment of extended family members who drag him into scrapes.
While much of the humour is culturally specific, and there is without doubt a significant lingering inspiration on the Friday series from both stoner cinema and historic Blaxploitation, as well as the clear teen hood drama typified in Boyz N the Hood (in which Cube of course co-starred), Next Friday is so unashamedly obvious in the comedic stereotypes it perpetrates it is, with two decades distance, hard to take at face value. Women, particularly black women, are sexually objectified by every man in the film – and if they’re not, they’re heavyset bodyguards or aggressive, streetwise-talking old Chinese neighbours. Black men—all except Craig—are sexually dominant or insecure. “Don’t kill me, man. I got a mothafuckin’ girlfriend. I got a wife on the side”. And all Mexican men are loud, drug-running gangsters with no respect for women or the community around them, plus an abject fear of locked doors recalling experiences in prison.
As a result, it’s hard to fathom quite what the point of Next Friday is beyond cheap laughs and trading off what turned Friday into a cult film, the cultural inversion of black culture and the fun of living in the hood. Cube’s script makes a point of how Elroy is the only man on his block to have bought his massive house—having won the lottery, by the way—so on the one hand, there is a sense Next Friday is attempting to comment on the self-made black man. Elroy has the big house but his son, Day-Day, is slumming it working for Pinky, a Little Richard-esque music store owner, anxious about losing his job. In the end, it’s the black characters who take down Joker, the boorish (and frankly grating) drug-dealing Mexican immigrant who owns the house across the street. The only white character in the film, Roach, is Day-Day’s stooge – bar a Michael Rappaport cameo as a delivery man who assumes Craig owns Elroy’s house only because he’s a sports star.
In this sense, Next Friday is refreshing and an indication of how principally black cinema, made up of almost entirely a black cast, doesn’t simply have to portray African-Americans as one distinct stereotype. Yet on the other, it panders to all of those cliches, particularly in how it stereotypes Mexican culture. Cube’s script gives way to vulgarity at every turn, perhaps because there isn’t anything else of substance to fall back on. It relies on the audience’s enjoyment of established characters going in, such as Craig’s father (John Witherspoon, arguably the funniest performer in the cast), who spends the majority of the film trying to find somewhere to take a shit. Even an attempt to layer in a revenge sub-plot, continuing from where Friday left off, ends up entirely lost among the strained, lazy comedy the film feels it needs to stay afloat.
Ultimately though, Next Friday made bank. It was by no means a runaway hit but it certainly made a fair profit for New Line Cinema and dominated its opening weekend, doing well enough to warrant a third film, Friday After Next, in 2002 – which was far less successful. It is an example, however, of the forgettable early-2000’s sequel. People may fondly remember Friday for what it did for black cinema but Next Friday does it a needless disservice.
Read the previous 2000 in Film pieces here: