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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 26, 1995


F. Gary Gray
Ice Cube;
Chris Tucker;
Bernie Mac;
Tiny Lister Jr.;
Paula Jai Parker;
Faizon Love;
LaWanda Page
profanity, drug use and violence

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"Friday," rapper-actor Ice Cube's first foray into comedy, is a low-key "Day N the Hood" with elements of "It Was a Good Day," the Ice Cube song and video that gave thanks for an inner-city day without trauma. It is also a recognition of community: All the action takes place in and around the working-class Jones house in south-central Los Angeles, and much of it is played out in that house's front yard, where Craig Jones (Ice Cube) and his best pal, Smokey (Chris Tucker), sit on their chairs . . . and here comes the neighborhood.

The self-contained setup could serve as a television sitcom, or even a play, and "Friday's" characters include some familiar types, from the glowering neighborhood bully Deebo (the intimidating Tiny Lister Jr.) and the less-than-saintly Pastor Clever (comedian Bernie Mac) to Craig's possessive, straight-outta-2 Live Crew girlfriend Joi (Howard University grad Paula Jai Parker).

"Friday" centers on Craig and Smokey's misadventures on a single day when they have too much time on their hands and too much mischief in their hearts. In some ways, Ice Cube's Craig is the flip side of Doughboy, the character he played in John Singleton's searing "Boyz N the Hood." Both are trying to sidestep the pitfalls of growing up hard, but Craig's psychic load is much lighter—he's a homeboy in a fairly stable family, surrounded by potential negatives but not overwhelmed by them. In fact, Craig is something of a straight-arrow, and much of the film's action is the result of Smokey's talking him into sharing a joint. These are prankstas, not gangstas.

Cube is amusing, though he's really playing straight man to Tucker's frenetic and energized Smokey. It's clear how Smokey earned his name, and now he's in trouble after having incautiously smoked up $200 worth of weed advanced to him by the neighborhood drug dealer, Big Worm (Faizon Love). Smokey's not just a troublemaker, he's a trouble magnet, and what starts as a day of kicking back turns into a race against time to come up with the money.

First-time director F. Gary Gray (who started as a BET cameraman here and has made numerous rap videos, including "It Was a Good Day") worked from a script by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh that doesn't obscure such issues as violence and drugs. For instance, a late drive-by shooting doesn't hurt anyone, but it's a bracing reminder of how quickly a good day can turn to bad and how such events become a fact of life.

Clearly, though, "Friday's" creators have chosen to emphasize the bearable lightness of being. That allows for literal bathroom humor (Craig's father has a colonic fixation) and marijuana jokes (crackheads are un-gently parodied), as well as gender-based humor, mostly directed at women and sometimes cruel but never nasty (as when a girl who promises she looks like Janet Jackson shows up for a date with Smokey looking more like Freddie Jackson).

"Friday" is populated with stand-up comedians and sitcom veterans (including LaWanda Page as a foul-mouthed church lady). Chris Tucker is also an experienced comedian, which allows him to carry the film. As for Ice Cube, he's funny precisely because he's not a comedian. In his dramatic roles, Cube's raised eyebrows usually unleashed a fearsome glare and a hint of danger; here, his expressions are more quizzical, amused or confused. He plays against type, just as the movie itself plays against hype.

Friday is rated R for profanity, drug use and violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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