"Friday" sports an ice-cream truck driver who deals a lot more than Nutty Buddies, a character plagued by angel-dust flashbacks and an uncomfortably realistic drive-by shooting.
And those are the jokes, folks.
The movie is rapper-actor Ice Cube's attempt to inject some humor into the 'hood. The message from the veteran of such gritty dramas as "Boyz N the Hood," "Trespass" and "Higher Learning" is clear: People in South Central Los Angeles, like those anywhere else, depend on laughs to get them through the day. And he's behind this effort full-force, as star, co-writer and co-executive producer.
Trouble is, the guy's just not funny. Sure, he's got a sweet smile, and he's the type you want to laugh along with, but his modus operandi is a skeptical scowl. In the movie's press notes, he says he aims to be a Jackie Gleason-style straight man.
One of these days, Cube. One of these days.
"Friday" is a day-in-the life tale focusing on Ice Cube's character, Craig, and his trying-really-hard-to-be-wacky sidekick Smokey (Chris Tucker of "House Party 3" and "Meteor Man").
Smokey, as you might surmise from the moniker, has a bit of a pot problem. (You wouldn't guess it from the Cypress Hill and Cheech and Chong posters on his bedroom wall.) He's a dealer who hardly deals, except to himself. He drives a convertible Pinto -- the source of some of the movie's best laughs. And he has that occasional nasty little shoulder twitch, thanks to an unwitting toke of angel dust a while back, which is shown in a black-and-white flashback.
The day is rolling merrily along (except, of course, for Craig's FTC getting fired the day before -- har har) until the friendly neighborhood ice cream man reminds Smokey of a $200 debt he has to pay off by that night. (Cue the scaaaary music.) The ensuing shenanigans, peppered with harsh language, culminate with the drive-by and Craig throwing down his gun, at his dad's insistence, to use his fists (with a brick and a post thrown in) to prove himself a "man."
The guys encounter a zany cast of characters along the way that includes Craig's dad (John Witherspoon), who likes to give lectures while otherwise engaged in the bathroom, Craig's rich but jealous girlfriend and the neighborhood bully, played by an actor with one of the great names in cinema today, Tiny "Zeus" Lister Jr.
But when the best joke in a comedy is the real-life name of one of the supporting actors, you know you've got a problem. Ice Cube and first-time feature director Gary Gray actually have some good ideas (and a great soundtrack, anchored by repeated samplings of Rose Royce's sublime "I Wanna Get Next To You"). But the few serious moments here are frighteningly real, and the few laughs are frighteningly painful.
Directed by Gary Gray
Starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker
Released by New Line Cinema
Rated R (harsh language, drug use, toilet humor)