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A much better day

The first Friday moviegoers spent with Ice Cube in 1995 was a mess. A profitable mess, mind you, but so crudely constructed and devoid of originality that I gave it an F grade upon its release. Skipping the sequel, Next Friday, was an easy decision, although Cube deserved credit for a clever title instead of Roman numerals.

Now comes the best title ever for any third episode, Friday After Next, and a much better movie than the one I saw seven years ago. Cube has always been a charismatic actor but his writing is the difference here, creating colorful characters who depend less upon gratuitous profanity and rude bodily functions to get laughs. At a point where most movie franchises run out of ideas, Cube is starting to think about what it takes to make a film and not just money.

Friday After Next is another day in the lives of Craig (Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps), cousins in L.A. who finally move out of their parents' homes and are hired as security guards in a shopping plaza. They can't even protect their own crib, burglarized on Christmas Eve by someone in a Santa Claus suit. Maybe they can find the guy in time for a happy holiday.

Of course they will. Cube isn't that surprising as a writer yet.

But he's smart enough to populate Friday After Next with scene-stealing supporting roles, from an admirably restrained call-back to the loud toilet habits of Craig's father (John Witherspoon) to a Jeri-curl pimp named Money Mike who deserves a movie all his own. Newcomer Katt Williams is a riot with his mewing voice sneaking through several missing teeth, giving Money Mike a fresh twist on an urban-movie cliche.

Cube is also showing a more diverse hood, where white cops are benignly ridiculous and a Middle Eastern shop owner (Maz Jobrani) is a helpful, cross-cultural foil. There isn't a single racially charged gag in Friday After Next and there shouldn't be. People's differences are recognized, they all get ribbed in raucously gentle fashion and that's the end of it. Kind of like the way life really is most of the time. Or should be.

Those underpinnings of humanity in Friday After Next are different from the inclusive, defensive tones of the original Friday. That gives purpose to the raunchy humor by avoiding the "us vs. them" shortcut to approval from a narrower audience than the talent involved deserves. The vibe remains but it's more welcoming. Cube is keeping it real, and for most of this movie, really funny.

REVIEW

Friday After Next

Grade: B

Director: Marcus Raboy

Cast: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Don "D.C." Curry, Anna Maria Horsford, Katt Williams, Maz Jobrani

Screenplay: Ice Cube

Rating: R; profanity, sexual situations, drug abuse

Running time: 85 min.

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